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Self-driving robot taxis being trialled in Japan next year

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The Johnny Cabs from Total Recall are closer than ever to being real. That's because robotic taxis will start testing on Japan's roads next year.

The imaginatively-named Robot Taxi will offer rides to 50 people in the Kanagawa prefecture just outside Tokyo, the Wall Street Journal reports. The cars will be completely autonomous, but will have a human operator in the driving seat just in case anything goes wrong.

The trial will be fairly limited. It will only shuttle passengers between their local shops and their homes. But that's more than other self-driving cars have done. So far, most tests have been limited to only those working on the project. Joe Public has been left well out of it.

Initially, the service plans to operate in places lacking in public transport, and to help tourists find their way around. As you can see in the video below, the target market is Japan's ageing population. Which makes sense – a whopping third of the country's population is aged over 60.

Read more: Google's self-driving cars are hitting public roads this summer

Google aims to have its self-driving cars in operation by 2020. That's providing it can overcome the huge number of regulatory hurdles in its way. Self-driving cars are reportedly safer than when under human control. But still, it's quite a leap to let them loose on our roads.

Google's fleet has been involved in 11 accidents, but according to the firm, each one was the fault of other drivers.

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