World's longest bus route

According to the India Times, in May 1968, a British traveler named Andy Stewart was looking to make his way home to London from Sydney, Australia. So he bought a double-decker bus and converted it into a mobile home, nicknamed "Albert". That October, he set off with 13 others on Albert the Bus for a 16,000-kilometre journey from Sydney to London via India. The journey took 132 days to complete.

Things turned out pretty well for Albert, considering it went on to complete 14 more Sydney-to-London trips over the next 8 years. A "year-round timetable" was drawn up for a regular service between London, Kolkata and Sydney in what was called Albert Tours.

Japan's nightlife

Businesses in Tokyo are continuing to look for ways to get foreign visitors to spend their time and cash on the capital’s wide-ranging nightlife options. Travel agencies are arranging special events for foreign tourists such as taiko (drum) performances, while some hotels are extending the business hours of their restaurants to allow guests to socialize into the early hours.

In January (2018), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said it planned to survey foreign tourists on what they enjoy about the capital’s nightlife, including restaurants, theaters and sporting events, to better cater to their interests and encourage spending.

Hello Kitty train

It is enough to wake the tired eyes of the groggiest commuter. A striking white and pink bullet train themed around the Japanese cartoon character and marketing phenomenon Hello Kitty. The bespoke train began a three-month run between the western cities of Osaka and Fukuoka on June 30.

It was unveiled by the West Japan Railway firm which hopes the use of a famous local export will boost tourism. Hello Kitty branding features are on the windows, seat covers, and flooring. In line with the firm's aim to attract tourists, the first carriage will have no seats but will offer passengers the chance to buy regional goods and foods from western Japan. Another carriage will have a large Hello Kitty doll - adorned in a unique crew uniform - where fans can pose for photos.

Norway proposes electric aircraft

All of Norway’s short-haul airliners should be entirely electric by 2040, the country’s airport operator said on Wednesday, cementing the Nordic nation’s role as a pioneer in the field of electric transport.

“We think that all flights lasting up to 1.5 hours can be flown by aircraft that are entirely electric,” chief executive Dag Falk-Petersen said, noting that would cover all domestic flights and those to neighbouring Scandinavian capitals.

By market share, Norway has more electric cars on the road than any other country in the world and also has several projects underway for electric ships.

According to official statistics, air transport accounts for 2.4% of Norwegian greenhouse gas emissions for domestic traffic, and more than double that when international routes are included.

Electric air travel will also at least halve noise levels and the operating cost of aircraft, Falk-Petersen said.

Honda to make cars with Alibaba

Honda Motor Co. said Tuesday it will develop “connected cars” jointly with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to offer online services to drivers.

Together with the Chinese e-commerce giant, Japan’s third-largest automaker by volume will aim to launch online payments for fuel, parking and other services in China through the jointly developed vehicles.

Global automakers are focusing on connected cars with internet access to provide drivers with online payments, shared traffic information and other advanced services.

Honda is hoping to attract more customers in China, the world’s biggest auto market, through the tie-up.

Nissan safety checks investigated

Japanese Transport Minister Keiichi Ishii said on Friday that unauthorized technicians had been found certifying vehicles at five Nissan plants that the ministry has been inspecting.

The unauthorized technicians included contract workers, Ishii told a news conference.

"It's extremely regrettable, causing anxiety for users and shaking the foundation of the certification system," he said.

Nissan has decided to recall all 1.2 million new passenger cars it sold in Japan over the past three years after discovering final vehicle inspections were not performed by authorized technicians.

Senate passes self-driving car bill

In America, on a unanimous voice vote, a Senate committee approved legislation that authorizes self-driving car makers to sell as many as 80,000 vehicles a year within three years that would be exempt from current safety standards as manufacturers develop technology for autonomous vehicles.

The legislation only allows for the exemption—which gives car makers the chance to test and design new technology while potentially foregoing traditional standards for items such as the placement of controls and displays, rear-view mirrors or protection from the impact of steering wheels in a crash—in cases where manufacturers can show the exempted car or component is as safe as that already on the road.

 “This is cutting-edge technology that is advancing extremely fast,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters. “It’s going to happen a lot sooner than people realize. This is not decades—it’s a matter of a few years.”

Volvo's battery-infused car

In 2013, Volvo announced a potentially revolutionary approach to designing electric vehicles (EVs). It wanted to replace some of the steel body panels in its cars with carbon fiber composite materials that can store power like a battery.

The rechargeable panels would be composed of multiple layers of carbon fiber, which are insulated from each other by fiberglass inserts. The result is a structural component that can be charged like the battery.

Though this new design would reduce weight problems associated with rechargeable car batteries, it was not without its problems. In the event that the car crashes, emergency crews would essentially be trying to fish someone out of a giant damaged battery. The cost of carbon fiber was also quite high. Due to these issues, Volvo decided not to mass produce its new cars.

Autonomous bus service in Tochigi

A test of self-driving bus services organized by the transport ministry kicked off in Tochigi Prefecture on Saturday.

The ministry hopes to launch the autonomous bus services in fiscal 2020 to provide a means of transportation for elderly people living in hilly and mountainous areas with dwindling populations.

The ministry hopes automated public transport services will help elderly people who have trouble visiting hospitals or shopping because they can no longer drive or their bus services have been canceled.

“The ride was comfortable,” one participant said, adding, “I also enjoyed the views from the large window.” 

View a picture of the bus here

Toyota invests in an Asian Uber

Japanese automotive giant Toyota has made a strategic investment in South East Asia taxi-hailing service Grab.

Grab, which competes with Uber, announced on Wednesday that Toyota is investing in a $2 billion (£1.6 billion) plus funding round that was announced in July. Other investors in the round include Japanese tech firm SoftBank and its Chinese equivalent, Didi Chuxing.

Grab—which currently offers services in 87 cities across Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar—has raised around $3.5 billion (£2.7 billion), according to Crunchbase.

Self-driving tractors in Japan

Major Japanese agricultural machinery makers are developing self-driving tractors. The government plans to support the introduction of these  tractors amid growing hopes that such machines will help farmers cope with labor shortages at a time when many are aging and face difficulties finding successors.

In June 2017, Kubota Corp. started selling the country’s first tractors with autonomous driving functions on a trial basis. Utilizing the Global Positioning System (GPS), the tractors can keep tabs on where they are operating.

As the machines still need to be monitored, Kubota assumes that farmers will operate two tractors at a time, one with a driver and the other unmanned. Having two tractors operate simultaneously in this way on farmland with an area of 3,000-5,000 sq. meters would reduce the work time by around 30 percent, according to Satoshi Iida, a senior managing executive officer of Kubota.

Japan introduces English road signs

Japan began introducing bilingual traffic signs on Saturday as the number of foreign visitors increases ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

By the time the games open, about 35,000 of the 140,000 stop signs in the capital will have been replaced with ones in both Japanese and English near the Olympic venues and in other areas, the Metropolitan Police Department said.

Along with the new stop signs, bilingual slow-down signs will also be introduced.

There are roughly 1.7 million stop signs and 1,000 slow-down signs in Japan, according to the National Police Agency.

In 2016, the number of foreign visitors hit a record 24 million. Against this backdrop, the agency has decided to change the signs to make them easier to understand for foreign travelers.

Priority is likely to be given to tourist destinations as well as areas around airports where many visitors rent cars.

Bike-sharing in urban Japan

The so-called sharing economy has spread to a variety of fields such as cars and homes, and Japan has seen another rising trend in recent years—bicycles.

A growing number of municipalities and private firms are providing bikes to gauge whether such services will catch on.

According to NTT Docomo Inc., which has been teaming up with municipalities to offer a bike-sharing service on an experimental basis, its bicycles were used about 1.8 million times in fiscal 2016, which ended March 31, up from 20,000 in fiscal 2012.

Docomo, Japan’s largest mobile phone carrier, is partnering with Koto, Chiyoda, Minato, Chuo, Shinjuku, Bunkyo and Ota wards in Tokyo. Around 4,200 two-wheelers were available at 281 “stations” as of March. Docomo also offers bike-sharing in the cities of Yokohama, Sendai, Hiroshima and Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.