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Panasonic Corp. said Monday (December 7) it will start trials in February of home deliveries by a self-driving robot in a residential area near Tokyo as the coronavirus pandemic has raised the demand for services with reduced or no human-to-human contact.

Panasonic plans to test the feasibility of the delivery service using an autonomous robot that can travel at a maximum speed of 4 kilometers per hour with delivery items loaded inside. Developed by the Osaka-based firm, the small robot will be used in an area designed to showcase advanced technologies under a joint project with local authorities and other firms.

Self-driving robots have gained renewed attention amid the global coronavirus pandemic, which has raised the need for some people to avoid human-to-human contact and stay at home. The virus outbreak has led more people to shop online and have food and other items delivered home, but a labor shortage in a range of industries including parcel delivery has been an issue in Japan.

Panasonic has already begun the first phase of the test that is scheduled to run until the end of December, putting the self-driving robot on a public road within the designated area called the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, located in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture.

In the second phase, the robot will deliver food and daily necessities purchased at shops to residents in the area between February and March.

The robot can avoid obstacles on its own but it will be remotely controlled when self-driving is not possible, according to Panasonic.

Panasonic is involved in a public-private sector panel to discuss the reworking of the legal framework to accommodate self-driving delivery vehicles.

Testing of autonomous vehicles on a public road including such delivery robots requires permission from local police.

In October, Japan Post Co. started public road trial runs in Tokyo of self-driving delivery robots.

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