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Mitsubishi Corporation: Trials of “KnowRoute”, AI-Controlled On-Demand Bus Service to Commence in Shiojiri City, Nagano Prefecture

Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) is part of a consortium that is set to commence trial operations of a mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) project in Shiojiri City, Nagano Prefecture. The “Shiojiri Project” is being undertaken as part of an initiative launched by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to promote new, regional MaaS applications(1). MC’s partners in the consortium include Next Mobility Co., Ltd. (Next Mobility) and, the municipal government of Shiojiri City. Next Mobility is a joint venture between MC and Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co., Ltd. (NNR).

As a digital transformation experiment in public transportation, the Shiojiri Project will take advantage of an AI-controlled, on-demand bus service called KnowRoute(2) for specified, inter-regional routes, and driverless vehicles for intra-regional routes.

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Project Aims

Other than rail, the only means of public transportation in Shiojiri City is a community bus service, but it has been hampered by a lack of drivers, a limited fleet, and other problems. The city is also aging. About 28% of its roughly 67,000 residents are at least 65 years old, which has led to an even greater need for public transportation. The Shiojiri Project aims to address both of these challenges.

Project Overview

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The Shiojiri Project includes KnowRoute system trial and driverless vehicles trial, which are set to commence in the city within this fiscal year. With an aim to have the former officially up and running from the beginning of fiscal year 2021 or sometime thereafter, the consortium’s next move will be to substantiate a regionally optimized implementation plan.

– KnowRoute System Trials
The main purpose of these trials will be to assess how practical and effective the KnowRoute system is within specified areas, but they will also define a pricing scheme for future introduction of a dynamic-pricing system, whereby bus fares will vary according to supply and demand.

– Driverless Vehicle Trials
The purpose of these trials is to assess the practicality and safety of using driverless vehicles equipped with a remote-monitoring system on the region’s public roads. The trials will be performed by consortium members Aisan Technology Co., Ltd. and Tier IV, Inc., the respective providers of the 3D mapping and autopilot systems.

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Through this project, MC aims to leverage its expansive network and customer base to build a safe and sustainable, next-generation model for public transportation and offer a convenient mobility service to regions in Japan that are facing challenges in that space.

(1) The objectives of this initiative are to use field trials to make new mobility services more commercially viable and socially acceptable, and to promote their applications to benefit regions both socially and economically. Organizations and regions are invited to prepare projects and carry out trials, and the costs of those projects that are adopted are covered in part by the government.
(2) Developed by Next Mobility, KnowRoute is an on-demand bus service that has been operating in the Island City area of Fukuoka City since April 2019. Instead of having predetermined routes and schedules, the customer-request-based system uses AI to figure out the most efficient routes for picking up and dropping off users who are going in the same direction. Starting this year, Next Mobility plans to develop the service and its operational know-how in other areas across Japan. Since June of this year, it has been operating as an alternative to a community bus service in the Iki-Minami area of Fukuoka City.

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