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German automotive giant Daimler has announced a partnership with electronics and engineering powerhouse Bosch to bring a fully automated driverless car system to urban roads.

The goal of the collaboration, which pairs Mercedes-Benz’s parent company with one of the world’s biggest suppliers of automotive components, is to “develop software and algorithms” to bring fully automated (SAE level 4) and fully driverless (SAE level 5) vehicles to city roads by the beginning of the next decade. Mercedes-Benz has previously demoed self-driving car prototypes, but the Bosch partnership commits the company to a time frame of around five years for introducing fully driverless cars to the market.

We’ve seen a steady rise in autonomous vehicle initiatives in recent times, with the world’s first public self-driving taxi service hitting Singapore roads back in August. But as things stand, all public road tests require humans inside the vehicle to take over should that be necessary.

Robo taxis

Daimler and Bosch have proposed a system that allows the vehicle to come to the driver “rather than the other way round,” according to a statement issued by the companies. In real terms, this means that towns and cities will have dedicated driverless car zones that allow passengers to beckon a car via their smartphone, with the vehicle making its own way to the user. What we’re talking about here are robo taxis.

Above: Automated taxis as an individual transport option

News of the partnership comes hot on the heels of a wave of major developments across the autonomous vehicle realm. BMW recently committed to putting 40 autonomous test cars on public roads in the second half of 2017, and a few weeks back Intel revealed it was coughing up $15.3 billion to acquire Mobileye, a computer vision firm specializing in autonomous cars.

Elsewhere, Alphabet’s self-driving car arm, Waymo, recently gave a first glimpse of its new autonomous minivans, before announcing it was suing Uber over alleged car-patent infringements.

Over in Japan, the government has committed to making self-driving taxis a prominent feature of Tokyo in time for the Olympics in 2020, an effort that has stoked the imaginations of other technology firms in the region. Last year, telecom giant SoftBank created a new autonomous vehicle joint venture called SB Drive, to “commercialize smart mobility services that utilize self-driving technologies.” A big focus of this involves creating community transport services, including bus routes, between towns and cities. Yahoo Japan joined as an investor a few weeks ago.

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