Editor's note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated the nationality of Fred Almeida and the amount Ascent could charge for its licenses. It has been corrected.
TOKYO — Japan is hardly known as a freewheeling source of Silicon Valley-beating breakthroughs. But one autonomous driving upstart wants to change that by bringing a little of Silicon Valley to this side of the Pacific.
Ascent Robotics, founded two years ago, hopes to deliver a Level 4 autonomous vehicle in two years and showcase it at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Ascent says it has a couple of secret weapons that will catapult it to the fore of the self-driving race. The first is an artificial intelligence that takes advantage of human neuroscience to better mimic causal reasoning. Ascent says its cars will better understand their driving environment and be able to drive anywhere without the need of high-accuracy GPS and digital maps.
The second is that, in a bid to foster innovation, Ascent is cultivating a California work culture in the heart of Tokyo.
A glance around its ultracasual office in the city's trendy Ebisu district illustrates Ascent's outside-the-box thinking. The English-only workspace is populated almost exclusively by young non-Japanese programmers lured from around the world by Tokyo's sleepless vibe, crime-free streets and cool cuisine. What's more, paychecks often go further than in pricey Silicon Valley.