Situated in the western part of Japan’s island of Shikoku, Iyo City is bordered by a sandy beach and mountainous terrain. The city has approximately 35,000 residents spread across an area close to 200km2. Against this backdrop of natural beauty, however, Iyo City is facing serious demographic challenges. In the Futami district of the city, 49.0% of residents were classified as elderly in 2020. As is the case for a growing number of rural municipalities in Japan, access to transportation and healthcare services has become difficult for many senior residents.
BOLDLY selected for government-led MaaS project
With the aim of addressing rural mobility challenges, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), in cooperation with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), has been promoting its Smart Mobility Challenge Project in targeted regions of Japan since 2019. As part of this project, METI began promoting an initiative to create new Mobility as a Service (MaaS) programs in designated areas.
As part of the new regional MaaS program, on September 13, 2022, SoftBank Corp.’s (TOKYO: 9434) subsidiary BOLDLY began an autonomous bus demonstration in Iyo City’s Futami district. Using a Navya ARMA self-driving shuttle, the demonstration is scheduled to continue until October 8, 2022. The demonstration is also making use of HELPO, a healthcare app provided by another SoftBank Corp. subsidiary, Healthcare Technologies.
Route on public road connects seaside rail station to inland facilities
In cooperation with Iyo City, the autonomous bus demonstration follows a route on a public road that connects the coastal Iyo-Kaminada railway station with Midori Elementary School, which is situated about 4km away inland. The autonomous bus runs multiple times throughout the day from approximately 9:00am to 5:00pm, and a one-way trip takes about 30 minutes. In addition to leading and managing the demonstration, BOLDLY was responsible for various pre-trial preparations, including collecting data for 3D maps and coordinating the bus route.
Demonstration also utilizes the HELPO app to help keep seniors fit
BOLDLY is implementing various MaaS programs and trials, but one new twist with this demonstration in Iyo City is that it combines autonomous bus services with the promotion of health awareness.
In cooperation with Healthcare Technologies, the HELPO smartphone app and Fitbit smartwatches are being provided to applicants to monitor their health. The aim is to create opportunities for elderly residents to raise their health awareness and encourage them to go out into the community with BOLDLY’s autonomous bus service. This initiative is expected to help prevent the onset of frailty in senior citizens by encouraging light exercise and interactions with other residents.
BOLDLY is conducting this demonstration not only to provide mobility services, but also to test solutions for other challenges communities are facing, as well as to improve the sustainability of mobility services by linking them with services in other fields, such as healthcare. Based on the results of this demonstration, BOLDLY will hold discussions with Iyo City and local transportation operators to study the implementation of ongoing autonomous bus services in Iyo City.
(Posted on October 4, 2022)
by SoftBank News Editors