Sakai Town is a community located 70 kilometers north of Tokyo that has a population of approximately 24,000, with 29% classified as elderly. As the town lacks a railway station, residents were facing serious mobility challenges. As reported by SoftBank News, to address this issue, Sakai Town partnered with BOLDY Inc.—a subsidiary of SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9434)—to provide an autonomous bus service on public roads starting November 2020.
Sakai Town’s autonomous bus service has since attracted attention from around the country. On October 12, 2022, Japan’s Minister for Digital Transformation Kono Taro, who in August 2022 was charged with the task of spearheading Japan’s digital transformation, made a special visit to Sakai Town to inspect BOLDLY’s self-driving buses, and other digital initiatives, first-hand.
Sakai Town selected by government as model mobility case
The “Sakai ARMA” is a self-driving bus that regularly runs through the center of Sakai Town, and it can be boarded by residents and tourists for free. Since Sakai Town first introduced self-driving bus system in November 2020, new bus stops and routes have been added in response to resident requests.
In 2022, Sakai Town’s mobility project was selected for a government grant as part of the Japan Cabinet Office’s Digital Garden City Nation initiative. In addition to BOLDLY, Aeronext, a provider of smart drone delivery solutions, and other companies are participating in the project to make Sakai Town a model compact city that ensures continued healthy living for all residents through autonomous bus services and drone-based deliveries.
Drones to be used to deliver daily necessities
With labor shortages in the logistics industry becoming a serious issue, in 2022 Sakai Town also launched an initiative that utilizes drones and self-driving buses to efficiently deliver daily necessities from supermarkets and restaurant meal orders made via a smartphone app. Aeronext’s “AirTruck,” a Japan-developed delivery drone can transport packages weighing up to 5kg to distances of up to 20km. In the future, a logistics system coordinated by BOLDLY and other companies will be established to enable Sakai Town residents to receive ordered goods in as little as 30 minutes after placing an order.
Minister Kono recognizes positive impact of self-driving bus services
After observing the drone aircraft and the loading of cargo, Minister Kono took a 20-minute ride on the Sakai ARMA bus route to a roadside rest stop.
After the tour, Minister Kono was visibly inspired by Sakai Town’s digital transformation efforts. “Several times I thought about coming to Sakai Town to inspect their autonomous bus service, and I’m pleased I could finally see it today,” he said. “The self-driving buses are being used conveniently by everyone, from the elderly to those raising children, and this is making a positive impact on the town's tourism and industry sectors. I would like to support the use of self-driving buses in other municipalities as well."
(Posted on November 1, 2022, Original article posted on October 20, 2022)
by SoftBank News Editors