Sony to form joint-venture for AI-based taxi-hailing app in Japan
Tokyo — On Tuesday, electronics giant Sony announced a plan to provide an artificial intelligence (AI)-based ride-hailing system to Japanese cab companies, while another taxi firm said they were in talks with Uber on a tie-up.
Sony said it was planning a joint venture to offer AI technology to six taxi operators, which currently own a total of 10,000 vehicles in Tokyo. The technology would use AI to predict demand for taxis and allow companies to more efficiently mobilise their resources.
The companies will form a joint venture this spring to develop a taxi-hailing app, though Sony said further discussions would be held before any legally-binding agreement is inked.
Also on Tuesday, Daiichi Kotsu Sangyo, a taxi company based in southern Fukuoka prefecture, announced they are in talks to join hands with US ride-sharing titan Uber. Taxi-hailing apps have found it challenging to crack the Japanese market, where risk-averse passengers prefer to stick to their high-quality traditional taxi service.
Hailing a taxi rarely takes more than a few seconds in major Japanese cities and there has been a relatively sluggish uptake of services such as Uber. The vast majority of taxis are hailed or hired from a cab rank, and a relatively small percentage of taxis are connected to a smartphone, posing another barrier to the success of apps such as Uber.
However, the number of taxi passengers has been on the decline, dropping by a third between 2005 and 2015, according to the transport ministry. Taxi companies hope apps could be a way to win back customers.
Sony’s plans come after Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing announced a deal with Japanese telecom firm SoftBank to develop a taxi app in Japan, earlier this month. SoftBank is heavily present in the taxi market and recently took a 15% stake in Uber.
Car maker Toyota also announced an investment of ¥7.5bn ($70m) in the JapanTaxi app this month, which says it is the biggest taxi-hailing app in Japan.