Do you want nothing more in life than to sit in the back seat of a last-generation Nissan Leaf while it drives through Japan without a human at the wheel? Well, today is your lucky day.
Nissan will begin a public test of its Easy Ride autonomous mobility service. It will operate self-driving Nissan vehicles on a set 4.5-kilometer route between Nissan's global headquarters and the Yokohama World Porters shopping center in Japan's Kanagawa prefecture.
During this pilot program, riders will be asked about their experience, which will help the automaker and its partner DeNA fine-tune the program before a wider rollout. Nissan hopes to expand Easy Ride to additional set routes before letting it loose on public roads as a proper taxi service, which Nissan expects to do in the early 2020s.
When that happens, riders will hail a ride using Easy Ride's mobile app, using text or speech to determine their destination. While on the ride, a tablet screen in the car will suggest things to do along the route and near the destination, while the mobile app will offer up coupons for local restaurants and stores. That's where the system is likely to make most of its money, I'd wager: Through partnerships with local retailers.
Easy Ride will obviously be great for young urbanites who don't subscribe to the notion that car ownership is remotely mandatory. But this service will be of most help to the disabled and the elderly who may not be able to drive at all, or who can only rely on the kindness of their neighbors and family. Regaining independence is a great feeling, and hopefully Easy Ride will make that happen.