Ageing populations: when autonomous is a must
Japan is ageing fast; its population is the oldest in the world with close to 30%, mostly women, above 65 years old today. It’s population is also shrinking from its current 127 million to a projected 88 million by 2065 (source: Continental Democracies, European Parliament). The combination of a high life expectancy and a low fertility rate have a radical impact on the country’s budget and economy.
As a result, people work longer (47% of the 65 to 69-year old people are employed), the farming population is shrinking, some rural towns are disappearing and schools are closing.
Japan has no other option than to review its economic model and create a “silver economy” which includes adapting products and services to older consumers (e.g., mobile phones with large physical buttons). In the absence of labor forces, Japan has also become a pioneer in robotics.
Unlike the perception of robots in the West – more threatening – Japan has built confidence in robots, which are now deployed for example in building receptions (anthropomorph robots) and nursing homes (to lift people in and out of their beds).
This brings us to the recent announcement of the Japanese Government to pave the way for public transportation to operate without human drivers, especially in rural communities. As young people leave the countryside for the bigger cities, the rural population is becoming more and more isolated, not only socially, but also economically.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has taken the lead over the project and is looking into control technologies for autonomous vehicles. In parallel, Japan’s Road Traffic Act will be amended to cater for autonomous vehicles to operate in traffic.
The solutions are being deployed as we speak: level 3 autonomous (the vehicle drives autonomously, but a driver is still present) is in test phase and autonomous buses are already driving in 5 locations across the country. By 2025, the Government aims to provide level 4 autonomous across 40 locations, to be ramped up to 100 locations by 2030.
Not an isolated case
The West is unfortunately not in a much better place. Of course, unlike Japan, Europe and US have an immigration policy, welcoming necessary younger workforce, but nonetheless, the bottom line is similar. Consequently, similar measures and solutions are to be expected. Autonomous is considered by many as a gimmick extract of improving technologies, but it might very soon be necessary to ensure that our (great-) grandparents remain active consumers.
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