Sony is reportedly planning to join forces with five taxi operators in Japan in an effort to develop a taxi-hailing platform powered by artificial intelligence technologies. According to a new report from Nikkei, the goal of the alliance is to create an AI system that will forecast demand for the transport service by taking into consideration factors such as one's ride history, weather updates, traffic alerts, and public events. The AI-powered taxi-hailing platform would hence be able to deploy a larger number of taxis in areas where a public gathering is ongoing to cater to the needs of its potential customers.
The effort will be led by Sony itself and will include Tokyo-based taxi operators such as Daiwa Motor Transportation, Hinomaru Kotsu, Kokusai Motorcars, Green Cab and the Checker Cab, insiders claim. It's presently not clear when the consortium plans to officially launch the service. There's also no word on whether the service will be made available in other territories beyond Japan. If the alliance ends up commercializing the AI platform, it will likely take on existing companies in the taxi segment such as startup JapanTaxi backed by Toyota. The automaker recently unveiled its e-Palette project at the Consumer Electronics Show, presenting an end-to-end solution for what it describes as "on-demand cities." Toyota’s e-Palette aims to expand the company's business into the autonomous ride-sharing and ride-hailing services while also envisioning mobile restaurants, repair shops, clinics, and many other mobile businesses. While Uber is the world's largest ride-hailing company, it still doesn't have a significant presence in Japan as Tokyo previously imposed a ban on using private vehicles for providing professional transportation services.
Sony's partnership with taxi operators for an AI platform further realizes the company's AI ambitions, though it's not the first time the company entered into an AI-related alliance. In May 2016, Sony invested in a U.S. startup called Cogitai, an AI company that specializes in continuous and anonymous machine learning based on real-world interactions. Sony also launched a communication robot called the Xperia Hello last November. The smart home assistant works like the Amazon Echo, though it differs slightly in that it has a "face" and a display. The robot is powered by the Sony Agent Technology, having been designed with the goal of helping people perform various tasks using just their voice.