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Artificial intelligence

Baidu expects China to lift ban on testing of driverless cars, adopt California-style regulations

Baidu vice-president Wu Xuebin says government policies likely in December

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 8:22pm

China may issue rules as early as next month to allow the testing of driverless cars in some cities on public roads, more than a year after the industry regulator halted highway trials citing safety concerns.

“More than one city in China is expected to adopt California-style regulations to allow road tests of autonomous vehicles,” Wu Xuebin, a Baidu vice-president in charge of the company’s autonomous driving division, said on the sidelines of the company’s annual technology conference in Beijing on Thursday.

Detailed policies may be out as early as December, he said.

Baidu has vowed to release a driverless car by 2018, with mass production to begin by 2021 and has already enlisted 70 global and Chinese partners from carmakers and ride-sharing companies, as partners for its Apollo project. The company launched a 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) autonomous driving fund with Yangtze River Industry Fund this year to invest in more than 100 self-driving projects. Resuming public road trials will help assuage concern among Chinese carmakers and technology companies that the country may fall behind in the development of self-driving vehicles when compared to the US, which allows road-testing in states like Arizona. The quest for driverless cars has been described as a holy grail for computing because they require advanced technologies from artificial intelligence to car-to-environment communication.

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Road testing is important for autonomous driving technology developers because it allows them to test and gather data from real-world environments rather than computer simulations. The more mileage clocked, the more companies have to work with to refine their driving software. Many countries, including the US and Germany, have enacted legislation or issued guidelines for conducting road tests of autonomous driving vehicles but there is no formal legislation or guidelines in this area in China.

Baidu chief executive Robin Li told the conference on Thursday that the company was fined by the authorities after he led a recent demonstration of its self-driving car on public roads.

A dozen Chinese tech companies and carmakers including Baidu, SAIC Motor and Changan Automobile have gained permits to test their autonomous driving technologies in California. The state has issued regulations for the road test of autonomous driving vehicles since September 2014. So far 44 companies across the world have gained permits to test on roads in California.