Unmanned robot taxis are gaining popularity in China

Thursday AutoX, Alibaba (BABY)backed by a startup, announced the deployment of a fully unmanned robot taxi on public roads in Shenzhen. The company said it was the first player in China to do so, marking a major milestone in the industry.

Previously, companies operating autonomous shuttles on public roads in the country were restricted by strict warnings that required them to have a safe driver on board.

This program is different. In Shenzhen, AutoX completely removed the backup driver or any remote operators. for its local fleet of 25 vehicles, the report said. The government does not restrict where AutoX operates in the city, although the company has said it will focus on downtown.

The company has released a video of its Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivan roaming downtown on its own, showing passengers getting into the car, loading a bag into the back seat, and letting the dog jump in for a ride.

It also shows a car driving around trucks being loaded, avoiding pedestrians and making a U-turn.

AutoX demonstrates a driverless robot taxi on the roads of Shenzhen. 1 credit

“This is a dream,” AutoX CEO Jianxiong Xiao said in an interview. “After working so hard for so many years, we have finally reached the point where the technology is mature enough that we feel confident to really eliminate the safety factor.”

Xiao said the company has won the trust of regulators by working to improve its software and hardware. “More than 100 cars drive on the roads every day. [in China] to collect data, he said. – AI software is better [now.]”

“From a technical point of view, the car is ready,” Xiao said. “It is very important to have this car, otherwise we will not be able to do without a driver.”

AutoX was founded in 2016 by Xiao, a former assistant lecturer at Princeton who still loves being called “Professor X.” The Shenzhen-based firm is developing technology that powers self-driving cars and is partnering with major automakers such as Fiat Chrysler to develop and release its robot taxi.

The new initiative is still in trial mode and is not currently open to the public. That probably won’t change anytime soon, according to Xiao, who said he hopes to get approval to expand the program to regular passengers in the next two or three years.

Robot Taxi Race

While AutoX is claiming an edge in China, this isn’t the first time fully unmanned shuttles have taken to public roads. This summer, the company received approval to conduct fully autonomous testing on public roads in parts of San Jose, California, removing another hurdle in one of its most important markets.

Alphabet’s Waymo went even further in October. speaking that it will begin opening up its self-driving vehicle services to members of the public in Phoenix, Arizona. (Now it offers rides for passengers in the area via the app.)

Internal competition is also heating up. Recently, Chinese companies have begun to let more ordinary people experience what it’s like to drive a self-driving car.

Coronavirus pandemic this year demonstrated the need for contactless services, prompting the government to move faster with offline technology, Xiao said.
In June, Didi, China’s largest taxi company, started offering free rides in their autonomous vehicles within the designated area of ​​Shanghai.
Recently, the Chinese tech giant Baidu (BIDU) also announced that anyone can try its robot taxi service in certain areas of Beijing. Both of these programs require special security drivers.

AutoX already has over 100 robot taxis deployed in five Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Wuhan. Over the next year, he intends to double his presence in more than 10 local cities. Whether the company can get people behind the wheel in other markets depends on local regulators, Xiao said.

In Shanghai, his cars are available to public users who can call them through Alibaba’s Autonavi app, a Chinese mapping app.

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The startup’s latest approval from local authorities in Shenzhen comes after six months of testing it has already done there.

Some of the company’s lessons so far include how to better adapt to traffic conditions in each location, Xiao said. In Shenzhen, for example, motorists often have to beware of delivery workers on bicycles and scooters, he said, and drivers are known to drive more aggressively than in the United States.

“Traffic scenarios are much more complex,” he added. “For our AI, we had to do a lot of work to adapt to the local Chinese driving style.”

China, home to the world’s largest automotive sector, could someday be the world’s largest market for automated vehicles, according to data. report from the consulting firm McKinsey. By 2040, the country is projected to generate up to $1.1 trillion in revenue from autonomous mobility services.

However, the industry still has a long way to go. Xiao estimates it will take another five years for self-driving taxis to become the norm across China.

“The bar is incredibly high,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult, but we’re very happy.”