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Public Roads - March/April 1999

Getting Around in Japan: The Status and Challenges of ITS

by Masafumi Mori

Much of the prosperity we have enjoyed in the 20th century can be attributed to roads and vehicles. And so, we recognize how important it is to address road-related social issues, such as an increasing number of traffic accidents, congestion, and other environmental problems now plaguing many countries.

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) are viewed as an effective solution that offers the potential to alleviate such woes, and they promise to contribute toward significant and positive changes in the 21st century. In Japan, four ministries and an agency — the ministries of Construction, International Trade and Industry, Transport, and Posts and Telecommunications and the National Police Agency — are working together to establish effective and efficient ITS in the real world according to the "Comprehensive Plan" formulated in 1996.

The ITS-related budget for fiscal year 1998 totaled approximately $460 million, which was allocated to the four ministries and the National Police Agency. The budget included $83 million for research and development, and $376 million for deployment. While the government budget as a whole increased only slightly, the ITS budget for research and development increased 10 percent over the previous year.

Cherry Expressway in Japan.Significant progress is being made in several ITS areas. The Vehicle Information and Communication System (VICS) has entered into the nationwide developmental stage, and the Electronic Toll Collection System (ETC) is moving ahead toward actual deployment. In the year 2000, Advanced Cruise-Assist Highway Systems (AHS) demonstrations will be conducted as a step toward real operations. And the Ministry of Construction is embarking on the "Intelligent Road Scheme/Smartway 2001" leading to a "Road With ITS Specifications" boasting the latest technologies.

Navigational Systems Are Leading the Way
VICS, which is a digital data communication system that provides drivers with updated information on road traffic, got underway in Japan in April 1996 ahead of other countries. VICS is the first to link navigational and communication systems.

ETC installation scheduled for fiscal year 2002.

From 1992 to October 1998, more than 3.46 million navigational systems were sold in Japan, and 2.35 million of these units were sold after April 1996 when VICS came into service. Since the start of VICS service through October 1998, 660,000 VICS receivers were sold.

Sales of VICS receivers have been constantly increasing. In 1997 alone, 314,000 units were purchased, and from April 1998 to September 1998, more than 50 percent of new navigational system buyers also bought VICS receivers. By the end of 1998, the estimated total sales of VICS receivers was 800,000 units.

Recently, the number of factory-installed navigational systems has exceeded that of systems installed after purchase, indicating a trend toward built-in navigational systems as the standard.

"Communication navigational systems" that use mobile phones for information services have also been widely used. In April 1997, the Intelligent Traffic Guidance System (ITGS) was initiated by Daimler-Benz. The system provides information about the shortest route to a particular destination, flights at the New Tokyo International Airport at Narita, and news and weather.

In November of that year, Toyota started the Mobile Network (MONET), an around-the-clock service that provides information about road conditions and traffic, news and weather, restaurants, gas stations, and hospitals. MONET also has a hands-free, voice data-input capability for transmitting and receiving telephone calls, e-mail, and simple fixed-form information.

Mobile Link, offered by Sony, is a road information service that uses the Internet. Any driver with a navigational system geared for the Internet can access the service free of charge. Tokyo traffic congestion.

In July 1998, Honda started a similar Internet-based, road-information service, called the Inter-Navi System, and in September 1998, Compass Link, an interactive service with operators, was launched by a consortium, which includes Nissan.

Navigational systems are also used to increase vehicle safety. The 1998 Honda Accord, marketed in September 1997, is equipped with a navigational system with a gyro-sensor that can detect an aberrant (zigzag) driving pattern. The Toyota Progres sold after May 1998 have a "navigational cooperative shift control" capability to provide safe driving on curves by automatically downshifting when the brakes are applied while cornering or entering a curve.

Electronic Toll Collection System
For several years, Japan has been behind other countries in the development and deployment of ETC. However, Japan's ETC, which will be put into practical use in fiscal year 1999 at major tollgates in the Tokyo metropolitan area, is state of the art.

Dashboard of ITS CAR 2001-I.ETC, as deployed in Japan, is based on DSRC (Dedicated Short-Range Communications), which links vehicles to roads through interactive communications. A radio device is mounted on the dashboard of a vehicle; an interactive communications (IC) card is inserted into the device; and the card "communicates" with radio equipment installed over each ETC lane. IC cards, which record information about tolls paid, are produced jointly with credit card companies. Private companies have high expectations for new business opportunities in the immediate future through the development of ETC. Japan has developed a standard electronic payment structure based on the type of vehicle, distance traveled, and movement among various administrative systems.

The ETC infrastructure will be enlarged and expanded over the next few years. Additional ETC lanes will be added to tollgates — generally one lane in rural areas and several ETC lanes at the large Tokyo tollgates. By fiscal year 2002 with the favorable results expected, 730 tollgates — about 60 percent of all tollgates in Japan — will be equipped with ETC.

ITS CAR 2001-I.DSRC is indispensable to ETC. Japan has adopted the 5.8-GHz bandwidth as the radio wave standard for ETC. The DSRC transceiver type of communications ensures enhanced reliability and ease of various communication zone settings, and it can be used for many ITS applications, including Traffic and Travel Information (TTI) and Commercial Vehicle Operations (CVO), without difficulty.

Advanced Cruise-Assist Highway Systems
In Japan, AHS research is divided into the following segments:

  • AHS-i (information) — the system provides some information collection.
  • AHS-c (control) — in addition to information collection, the system assists with some vehicle control.
  • AHS-a (automated cruise) — the system provides full information collection and fully automated driving.

ETC testing in actual traffic setting.AHS requires many kinds of roadside infrastructure for monitoring highway conditions such as other vehicles, obstacles, highway surface conditions, and vehicle positions. Road-to-vehicle communications are also necessary. And then, controlling the vehicle based on these highway conditions is the next step. For proper vehicle operations, obstacle detection and avoidance, speed control, driving control, and man-machine interfacing are required.

The Ministry of Construction is promoting research and development of AHS in cooperation with the Advanced Cruise-Assist Highway Systems Research Association (AHSRA), which was founded by 21 private corporations.

In September 1996, a test run took place on a part of Joshinsetsu Expressway, which was not yet open. The test run consisted of continuous automated driving on an 11-kilometer round-trip course. The vehicles used a safe-driving system to prevent collisions and lane departures.

In June 1998, common technological development requirements were published for the evolutionary AHS-i, -c, and -a. These requirements, called principal user services, included 10 user services regarding safety (e.g., lane keeping, prevention of collisions with obstacles, and prevention of left-turn collisions) and nine user services for improving efficiency and the environment (e.g., maintaining suitable headway, optimum lane utilization rates, and optimum speed). In the near future, a cost-benefit analysis of each user service will be carried out, and the results will be used selectively for research and development of AHS.

The Advanced Safety Vehicle (ASV) project was launched in 1991 to integrate advanced technologies with vehicles for greater safety. The ASV promotion study group — set up jointly by the Ministry of Transport, opinion leaders, and automakers — has pushed the project forward. The first phase was completed in 1995, and the second phase has been underway since 1996. In the second phase of the ASV project, research and development will be promoted in connection with infrastructures, using autonomous systems and infrastructure-assisted systems. This will make it possible to combine ASV with AHS. In the technological development of the autonomous system, much progress has been made, and some automakers have already embarked on the commercial sale of an adaptive cruise-control system, which senses vehicles ahead and behind and alters speed accordingly. The further employment of advanced technologies in infrastructure is expected to improve the safety performance of vehicles dramatically.

Table 1 — ITS-related budget in fiscal year 1998 (in millions) ($1.00=115 Yen). The Vehicle Information and Communication System is deployed by the Ministry of Construction and the National Police Agency; the Electronic Toll Collection System is deployed by Ministry of Construction; and the signal optimization is deployed by the National Police Agency.

  R&D Deployment Total
Ministry of Construction $71.3 $143.8 $215.1
Ministry of International Trade and Industry $3.9 $3.9
Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications $5.7 $7.8 $13.5
Ministry of Transport $1.6 $1.6
National Police Agency $0.4 $224.5 $ 224.9
Total $82.9 $376.1 $459.0

The "Smartway"
The challenge we now face is to deploy multifaceted ITS applications (e.g., VICS, AHS, ETC, and so on), boasting a variety of state-of-the-art technologies, in an efficient and integrated manner to achieve the highest level of benefits. The Ministry of Construction is embarking on "Intelligent Road Scheme/Smartway 2001."

With an intelligent vehicle (smart car), the Smartway is expected to provide innovative solutions to the "depressing legacy" of traffic problems, congestion, and a deteriorating environment. The goals are to increase mobility, improve safety and quality of life, and create new industries and employment opportunities, revitalizing all areas of the country.

To build the Smartway by 2001, the parties involved are making concerted efforts to promote research and development, work out realization programs, and establish organizations and criteria for proper national deployment. International standards are taken into consideration to set up multipurpose systems and standards for construction of the Smartway on trunk roads throughout the country.

Development of System Architecture
With the support of the Vehicle, Road and Traffic Intelligence Society (VERTIS), an organization established jointly by Japanese industry and academia, the five governmental bodies related to ITS are working on the development of the ITS system architecture. The development is open to input from both domestic and international parties. VERTIS receives comments from all domestic industrial and academic parties and controls the release of information overseas.

System architecture is developed in Japan on the basis of the Japanese "Comprehensive Plan" for ITS. "Object modeling technologies," an upgraded version of structure analysis technologies employed in the United States, are used for the architecture development. The development is premised on the 21 ITS user services to guarantee interoperability and interconnectability in our advanced information and telecommunication society.

A strenuous effort is being made to finalize and release the system architecture in the spring of 1999.

Future Directions
The Ministry of Construction established the new five-year improvement program in 1998. The plan is designed to improve the quality of life and encourage sound domestic economic growth. The plan requires an investment totaling 78 trillion yen (approximately $650 billion) for road development. The road improvement program has three goals: to improve quality of life and boost productivity; to create new industries; and to make efficient use of the country's land, thereby revitalizing local areas.

ITS — finally in the deployment phase in the United States, Europe, and Japan — holds the key to achieving these three goals. ITS also holds the answer to many transportation problems and rising global concerns. ITS is expected to be promoted on a global scale to bring safety and comfort to society in the next century. There is a universal recognition that international cooperation and collaboration are crucial, and all parties involved in ITS are actively engaged in international standardization activities.

Up-to-date information on ITS measures in Japan is available on the Internet at the Ministry of Construction's ITS Corner (

Masafumi Mori is working with the Federal Highway Administration as an international research fellow for a year under the U.S.-Japan personnel exchange program. Before coming to the United States in April 1998, he was the deputy director of the Planning Division of the Road Bureau in Japan's Ministry of Construction. He graduated from Tokyo University with a degree in civil engineering and joined the Ministry of Construction in 1981.