Side Note

Japan may be the first country to have self-driving cars

A General Motors self-driving Cruise vehicle in a test drive in San Francisco.

A General Motors self-driving Cruise vehicle in a test drive in San Francisco.

The Olympic Games are an international muscle-flexing competition, where countries show off their technological, architectural, and (oh yeah) athletic prowess to the rest of the world. Now, according to Reuters, Japan is promising a public system of self-driving cars in time for the for the 2020 Olympics, which it’s hosting in Tokyo.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Monday that the investment company SoftBank Group is investing $2.25 billion in order to develop the Cruise, the self driving car acquired by General Motors back in 2016. The country’s goal is to have a fully functioning self-driving car system in time for the 2020 Olympics, and a more developed, privatized commercial self-driving car system by 2022. The Cruise has been tested in the U.S. since 2017, but Abe said that it would also be tested on Japanese roads by the end of this fiscal year.

At this point, it’s still not clear if this self-driving car “service” would be on a closed set of roads that would remove other human drivers as a variable, which would be the safest option for passengers for this very young and fallible technology. Earlier this year, an Uber software failure resulted in the unnecessary death of a passerby. (SoftBank also has a 15 percent investment stake in Uber, but opted not to invest in the company for this project.) It’s also not known whether athletes, some spectators, or major parts of Tokyo will be able to use the fleet of Cruises.