Sony chases SoftBank and Toyota in taxi-hailing fray

Uber could launch flying taxis in the next five years

Sony has announced that it teamed up with six taxi companies in Japan to launch an AI-powered ride-hailing service.

Pictured here is a taxi driving through an underground tunnel in Tokyo, Japan.

Uber early past year hired Mark Moore, a former engineer at NASA, to lead its exploration of flying vehicle technology, showing how serious it appears to be about the for now nascent technological prospect.

Uber has already halted services in Norway and Finland as it waits for the regulatory framework to change in those countries, a sign of the less pugnacious approach the company is taking toward local authorities.

Five taxi operators will form a joint venture with Sony to build the platform.

Sony's ride-hailing service will be based on its artificial intelligence (AI) technology, the company said in a press release.

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Customers will be able to summon the flying taxis through smartphone apps. While Khosrowshahi didn't announce any specific deals, he made clear that Uber would make a renewed push to expand in Japan.

Uber's new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, is in Tokyo meeting regulators on his first visit to the region in post. App developer JapanTaxi announced a partnership with Toyota on February 8 that will see the automaker invest 7.5 billion yen ($70 million) in the unit of Nihon Kotsu, one of the country's largest taxi operators. Both Uber and Didi are backed by SoftBank. That's a turnaround from previous boss Travis Kalanick, who largely left the country in the hands of a local manager.

"They have invested in many other ride-hailing and ride-sharing companies around the world, which has allowed them to be incredibly smart about what it takes to succeed", he said.

"Since we launched in Morocco over two years ago, there has been a lack of clarity about new platforms like Uber and how they fit into the existing transport model", Uber said in a statement. If Sony doesn't get in early, it risks missing out on what could be a hot market.

Khosrowshahi said he wasn't bothered by SoftBank's announcement this month that it's partnering with Didi to target ride-hailing in Japan.

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