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DeNA brings EasyMile’s self-driving bus to Japan

TechCrunch TechCrunch 7/07/2016 Darrell Etherington

Maybe it’s just FOMO, but it seems like every internet company wants to be in the car business these days, and Japan’s DeNA is no exception. The app maker’s automotive wing had a special event in Tokyo today (via Reuters) to reveal its first self-driving vehicle, a 12-person bus which will begin operating in Japan’s Chiba prefecture at a shopping center next month.

DeNA is probably a familiar name for TechCrunch readers, but the company’s highlight moment to date might be its selection as Nintendo’s partner in bringing its iconic gaming characters and brands to mobile devices. DeNA has had an automotive business for a while now, though, and now it’s launching its first production vehicle in partnership with French driverless tech company EasyMile, which makes the EZ10 Robot Shuttle currently being trialled in a number of global projects.

The EasyMile EZ10 can hit a max of 40km or around 25 miles per hour, and employs a variety of sensors, cameras, GP and other systems in order to operate. It’s not a full-featured city dweller, though; EasyMile’s vehicles are designed specifically for use in private environments, where they don’t have to contend with the added complexity of human traffic.

DeNA’s role in all of this is primarily to handle coordinating with local Japanese authorities to make sure the French company’s hardware can operate in tandem with local regulations and existing systems, as well as facilitating insurance and offering “services” to customers who purchase the self-driving vehicles for deployment.

Like Alibaba and LG, DeNA is teaming up with a more experienced automotive industry player rather than trying to build something from scratch, which is smart given the industry’s complexity and how much it would cost in terms of time and money to ramp up an internal car business.

That said, this is a potentially high-stakes game of musical chairs; partnerships require lower investment than spinning up your own business, and are easier to switch if you bet wrong, but there are still going to be big rewards for companies who pick the correct unions early. We’ll see if DeNA and Easymile’s pays off.

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