Tencent gets go-ahead to test autonomous cars in Shenzhen

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 6:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 9:41pm

Tencent Holdings on Monday received its first licence to conduct open-road tests for its autonomous cars on designated areas in the southern coastal city of Shenzhen, heating up the race for the commercial development of self-driving vehicles in China.

The licence granted to Tencent was also the first such authorisation issued by the Transport Committee and Public Security and Traffic Police Bureau of Shenzhen, where the company is headquartered, according to a statement released by the internet giant.

The tests are expected to move forward Tencent’s self-driving car initiative from the technical stage into the application stage, which forms a crucial part of its mobility strategy, according to Su Kuifeng, director of the firm’s autonomous driving laboratory.

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Shenzhen’s grant of a licence for autonomous car tests has a come a month after China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) released national guidelines for smart internet-connected cars, which gave local authorities a freer hand to arrange road tests for self-driving vehicles.

Provincial and municipal governments can evaluate local conditions to choose test areas for autonomous cars, issue licence plates and need only brief the MIIT, the Ministry of Public Security and the Transportation Ministry twice a year on the road tests, according to the guidelines which took effect on May 1.

About five months ago, Beijing became the country’s first city to give the green light for autonomous cars to do open-road tests. In March, Shanghai issued licenses for self-driving cars to electric car start-up NIO as well as the state-owned automotive design and manufacturing company SAIC Motor.

Tencent joins rival internet giants Baidu and Alibaba Group Holding – which are collectively known as BAT – in the artificial intelligence-driven industry.

BAT were earlier named by the Chinese government to its national team of artificial intelligence champions. Baidu had been tasked to spearhead the development of self-driving cars.

Autonomous driving is one of the areas where China and the United States are competing for leadership, part of a broader contest for supremacy in the next generations of technology that is revolutionising the way people work, play and live.

Self-driving cars are increasingly seen as the holy grail of applied technology because they must be proven safe in unpredictable real-world conditions.

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US cities have also become popular testing grounds for Chinese autonomous driving players. Didi Chuxing, China’s the largest ride-hailing services provider, received a permit to test self-driving cars in California, according to information posted on the website of that state’s Department of Motor Vehicles on May 10, a Financial Times report said.

Didi became the 53rd company to receive such a permit in California after other Chinese companies, including Baidu, NIO and self-driving car firm

While Baidu has been ahead in autonomous driving tech road tests, both Tencent and Alibaba have rushed to make up lost ground.

Last month, Tencent signed a new partnership agreement to develop internet-connected cars with FAW Group – the sixth carmaker to sign up in an alliance after Changan, GAC Group, Geely, BYD and Dongfeng Liuzhou Motor.

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New York-listed Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce services provider and parent company of the South China Morning Post, last month said it was also conducting autonomous car tests in preparation for open road trials. It also plans to hire 50 more self-driving specialists for its AI research lab, said an Alibaba spokeswoman.

Alibaba also formed a partnership with SAIC Motor, the country’s largest carmaker, to launch internet-connected cars powered by Alibaba’s AliOS in-car operating system. Another venture by Alibaba to have a car model equipped with AliOS will begin this year in cooperation with Dongfeng Peugot Citroen Automobile Company.

China is likely to emerge as the world’s largest market for autonomous vehicles and mobility services, worth more than US$500 billion by 2030, according to a McKinsey report released last month.

Additional reporting by Sarah Dai