A gaming and ecommerce firm is working on driverless car technologies with the goal of offering robot cabs during the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

DeNA - which produces one of the most popular mobile games in Japan - hopes to rival Uber and Google’s plans to offer driverless taxi and car technologies after partnering with Japanese robotics firm ZMP.

Tokyo robotics company ZMP shows a prototype self-driving car at a test track in Japan ©ZMP
Tokyo robotics company ZMP shows a prototype self-driving car at a test track in Japan ©ZMP

"Our dream is to have some unmanned taxis for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, which would impress people everywhere," Hiroshi Nakajima, a senior vice president at DeNA, said at a news conference Thursday in Tokyo. 

The company didn't give details about its plans or set any firm milestones for deployment. But one advantage it has is the partnership with ZMP, which has been developing robot car platforms, sensors and camera technologies for years. 

DeNA and ZMP have set up a joint venture, Robot Taxi, that they say is the world's first to be exclusively dedicated to unmanned cab services. Some of its users would include elderly, handicapped and people living in rural areas, ZMP CEO Hisashi Taniguchi said.

While the companies did not provide details about what features the robot taxis would have, Taniguchi said they would likely be in the minivan class, larger and more luxurious than the modified Toyota Prius that ZMP has been testing in the Nagoya area in collaboration with Nagoya University. 

That test platform, called RoboCar, was seen in a ZMP video distributed to reporters Thursday. It showed a Prius equipped with sensors on its roof, sides and rear slowly navigating a test track while a man in the driver's seat kept his hands off the wheel.

Google has already piloted its proprietary car (hardware) and driverless capabilities (software) on Californian roads. Prior to this, it tested its software on Prius models, similarly to ZMP.

In addition, ride-hailing app maker Uber is working with Carnegie Mellon University on a research centre for self-driving vehicles, it said in February. 

While Google is several laps ahead in the robot car race, Nakajima said DeNA's user experience for robot taxis wouldn't be inferior to those of the search engine. DeNA will leverage is know-how in mobile apps to develop various services linked to Robot Taxi, from in-vehicle entertainment to insurance and travel businesses, he added.

The UK, however, is uniquely positioned for driverless car testing as there are no legislative restrictions to put an autonomous car on public roads. Several research and development projects are taking place across the UK, funded by the government