Construction + Economy, Lighting Industry

Japan’s Autonomous Freight Conveyor To Replace 25,000 Trucks

Japan’s Autonomous Freight Conveyor To Replace 25,000 Trucks

The Plan

The Japanese government has a plan to create an autonomous freight hauling system connecting its major cities. The new system is expected to remove 25,000 freight trucks from the roads, and rely on conveyor belts or small, autonomous carts to move the freight.

An initial link between Tokyo and Osaka is expected to be completed by 2034. The plan is partially motivated by a predicted collapse in Japanese population and labor market, as well as ever increasing e-commerce volumes. The system will be designed to move large amounts of small cargo.

Implications For Lighting

Assuming this system gets built in some form, it seems to have some implications for roadway lighting. A dedicated autonomous freight system could theoretically avoid roadway lighting. Nighttime emergencies and maintenance events could rely on temporary emergency or construction lighting approaches.

The autonomous vehicles or carts certainly would not require vehicle lighting to operate, although a small amount of safety illumination (lights that let the vehicle be seen at night) seems like a good idea.

This could have devastating impacts on truck stops, or wherever Japanese truck drivers stop for fuel, bathrooms, and food & beverages. It would seem to pose an existential threat to the entire truck stop industry, including the lighting sold into that industry.

If the Japanese project shows a model to be successful, there is the possibility of some adoption in North America, however the same type of population and labor crash isn’t predicted for North America.

In this author’s opinion, this plan brings up the larger issues involved in autonomous vehicles, whether for passengers or freight. Autonomous vehicles on existing roadways, scheduled at night, seems to be a much lower cost option compared with building new infrastructure systems. Running freight all night would reduce congestion during normal driving hours. Autonomous trains (or separate train cars for moving small freight) on existing rail lines would also seem to achieve the same goals at significantly lower costs. This could also be done at night. Some are predicting the larger autonomous vehicle movement could eliminate the need for street lights, if autonomous vehicles rely on onboard LiDAR for machine vision. This scenario could gradually destroy the roadway lighting industry over time.

More information on the Japanese plan for an autonomous freight transport system can be found here.

All images: New Atlas, using generative AI.


Japan’s Autonomous Freight Conveyor To Replace 25,000 Trucks


Japan’s Autonomous Freight Conveyor To Replace 25,000 Trucks


author avatar
David Shiller
David Shiller is the Publisher of LightNOW, and President of Lighting Solution Development, a North American consulting firm providing business development services to advanced lighting manufacturers. The ALA awarded David the Pillar of the Industry Award. David has co-chaired ALA’s Engineering Committee since 2010. David established MaxLite’s OEM component sales into a multi-million dollar division. He invented GU24 lamps while leading ENERGY STAR lighting programs for the US EPA. David has been published in leading lighting publications, including LD+A, enLIGHTenment Magazine, LEDs Magazine, and more.


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