Toyota, Pony.ai team up to build driverless fleet in China
- Founded by two former Baidu Inc. executives in 2016, Pony.ai has been piloting its robotaxi service in China
- Toyota earlier this year announced a US$600 million investment in ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing for mobility services
Chinese autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai and Japanese car giant Toyota are teaming up on research and deployment for next-generation mobility services as technology and carmaking companies form alliances to realise a driverless future.
The two companies announced the tie-up ahead of the Shanghai World Artificial Intelligence Conference that is due to kick off later this week, where companies are expected to showcase more autonomous driving technologies.
The pair will together explore possibilities to provide mobility services that are “safe for all”, according to a statement on Monday.
Founded by two former Baidu Inc. executives in 2016, Pony.ai has been piloting its robotaxi service in China. The Guangzhou-based start-up obtained a robotaxi operation permit in California in June as one of the first two companies of Chinese origin to receive such permit.
The alliance comes as Toyota aims to “become a mobility company firmly rooted in China”, according to the statement. In July, Toyota announced that it will invest US$600 million in Didi Chuxing and establish a new joint venture for mobility services with the company.
The autonomous driving sector has drawn billions of dollars of investment over the past few years and is becoming one of the key sectors in AI, an industry where countries including China and the US are competing for global leadership.
Of the 48 self-driving companies that submitted data that was disclosed in an annual report by the California Department of Motor Vehicles in February, 11 of them were either headquartered in China or had their main operations in the country.
However, the California self-driving statistics showed that Chinese companies still lag leading US companies in the field, with Waymo drivers disengaging the auto-drive function roughly once every 11,000 miles and Cruise drivers once every 5,200 miles on average over a 12-month period through November last year.
By contrast, Pony.ai, the front-runner among Chinese autonomous driving companies, reported human intervention once every 1,022 miles. Still, the gap is narrowing as the company pointed out that when it first started test drives on Californian roads, its disengagement metric was around once every 100 miles.
Chinese autonomous driving companies also claim to have a better understanding of the country’s traffic and weather based on accumulated test-drives and hence more confident in navigating Chinese roads.