Shanghai seizes chance to showcase future mobility with robo-taxi trials
- Didi Chuxing and AutoX slated to offer self-driving taxi trials in Shanghai
Within months, tourists from across China and the world will be able get a taste of future transport by hailing a robotaxi in Shanghai.
Didi Chuxing, the country’s biggest ride-hailing platform and AutoX, a Chinese autonomous driving start-up, are nearing the launch of self-driving pickup services in the city, the two companies announced on the sidelines of the Shanghai Artificial Intelligence Conference that ended Saturday.
The move comes a little over two years after Google’s self-driving unit Waymo started its pilot program in Phoenix, Arizona, and is expected to mark the first time that robotaxis are deployed in Chinese cities on a large scale.
An initial fleet of 30 Didi self-driving cars will operate within a designated area in Shanghai’s industrial Jiading district “in a few months”, according to Bob Zhang Bo, the firm’s chief technology officer.
The service in northwest Shanghai covers long-distance trips of 10 kilometres and will be offered free-of-charge with the main goal to collect customer feedback, said Zhang, who also heads Didi’s new independent self-driving venture.
“From technical side, by 2020, we want to have robotaxis in three major Chinese cities … to collect more diverse data,” he said on the sidelines of the conference where the company showcased its refitted driverless models. “By 2021, we want to launch the service outside China.”
The autonomous driving sector has drawn billions of dollars of investment and is becoming one of the key sectors in artificial intelligence, an industry where both China and the US are seeking global supremacy.
AutoX, which counts SAIC Motor and Dongfeng Motor among its investors, signed a partnership with the Shanghai authorities on Saturday at the closing ceremony of the WAIC to build a robotaxi pilot area in Jiading district.
The company plans to deploy 100 robotaxis in the pilot area by the end of year and early 2020, according to AutoX founder and chief executive Xiao Jianxiong.
The Shanghai pilot comes two months after the Shenzhen-based company received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to operate self-driving ride services to public passengers.
Both Didi and AutoX have been test-driving their autonomous vehicles in China and the US.
Pony.ai and WeRide, two Guangzhou, China-based autonomous driving start-ups, have offered beta robotaxi services over the past year.
“For self-driving, the whole industry is now entering phase two after proof of prototypes,” said Didi’s Zhang, “We will focus on commercialised products.”
Zhang dismissed such deployment would lead to taxi drivers losing their jobs.
“The fulfilment rate now is 75 per cent, which means about 25 per cent of requests for a ride are left unfulfilled,” he said. “Autonomous driving will offer a complement not replacement to human drivers, who still have a lot of values for passengers.