Japan to use home-delivery drones within 3 years

TOKYO - In a bid to nurture new businesses, the government plans to allow the use of drones for home delivery services within three years, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

According to sources, the government also plans to develop a legal system and infrastructure by 2017 to put self-driving cars into practical use. It aims to utilize such vehicles at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The government will encourage companies to invest in these new businesses to invigorate the country's economy, the sources said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued instructions to this effect at a public-private dialogue attended by representatives of business organizations and relevant Cabinet ministers.

The government will allow drones to be used for delivering goods to remote locations such as mountain areas or depopulated areas, as it takes time for trucks to transport items there, according to the sources. Drones also will be used for transporting urgently needed items such as medicines.

Drones have an average flight range of about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and fly at up to 40 kph (25 mph). They are capable of carrying up to several kilograms.

Drones are currently used for pesticide spraying in agricultural fields and aerial photography in disaster-hit areas and elsewhere. Drones have attracted attention as a new business, Sony Corp., has recently established a drone company jointly with a robotics venture.

The revised Civil Aeronautics Law enacted in September allows drone flights only in areas where their location can be confirmed visually and only during daylight hours. It also stipulates that they should maintain a certain distance from people and buildings.

These requirements effectively prevent drones from transporting goods over long distances.

To address this issue, a public-private council comprising relevant ministries and private companies will be established shortly to draw up deregulation policies by next summer, including a revision of the current legal system, according to the sources.

The envisaged council is expected to discuss such issues as monitoring drone flights from the ground using several surveillance monitors, instead of confirming their flights visually, and choosing flight routes that have little effect on the ground, such as routes over roads or rivers.

The government aims to have self-driving cars transport athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Games and drive on expressways. It will therefore establish a system to conduct necessary tests by 2017, the sources said.

In the medical field, the government reportedly aims to disseminate computer systems within three years to help doctors make diagnoses. It will draw up guidelines for the support software by next spring to help computer systems companies develop it, according to the sources.

There are increasing moves in Germany and the United States to create new businesses and enhance production efficiency by using the Internet, artificial intelligence and communication and other technologies as the so-called fourth industrial revolution. In Japan, various regulations, including laws, hinder practical use of such technologies in some cases, so the public-private dialogue will play a leading role in deregulation.

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