Residents of China’s Guangzhou and Beijing metropolises might be surprised the next time they hail a taxi – some of them are now self-driving.
Self-driving company Pony.ai is the operator and the only such company to have obtained a license to operate driverless taxis in China, the company said. It has tested vehicles, including a driverless semi-trailer, in China’s four leading cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen), and actual service in Guangzhou marks its first official deployment.
According to Pony.ai, it had to meet strict licensing requirements which included 24 months of testing in China or abroad, at least 1 million kilometers of driving distance, of which at least 200,000 must be covered in the automated driving test area of Guangzhou. During the test period, Pony.ai also had to maintain a clean driving record with no active fault accidents.
Permission has been given to Pony.ai to deploy 100 robotaxis in Guangzhou’s 800 km² Nansha district between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., and Pony.ai will charge standard taxi fares for the city. The company said it plans to expand to the rest of Guangzhou over time, and also has a paid permit in Beijing, where it plans to launch services.
While Pony.ai may be the first to be licensed and have expanded operations, it technically wasn’t the first company to offer self-driving taxis in China. This happened last year when Baidu, which deployed 10 self-driving SUVs in the area around Shougang Park, the site of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Since then, Baidu has rolled out limited self-driving taxi services in downtown Shenzhen, and said it has plans to expand to 100 cities by 2030.
Self-driving technology has slowly reached critical mass, but even Tesla CEO Elon Musk has admitted it is an almost impossible dream.
Research also indicates that the pace of safety improvements being developed in self-driving vehicles is slowing, but that hasn’t stopped countries like the UK from passing laws on the use of self-driving vehicles that have yet to come to fruition. .
According to Pony.ai co-founder and CTO Tiancheng Lou, the current trajectory of autonomous driving regulation means the world is ready. “The inclusion of autonomous vehicles in the [taxi management laws] proves that government policy and the public are increasingly accepting robotaxis as a form of everyday transportation,” Lou said.
This also seems to be the case in countries other than China. In the United States, Cruise and Waymo have both received permission to operate light taxis in San Francisco, but with far more restrictions than Pony.ai faces in Guangzhou. Cruise and Waymo taxis can only operate at night between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., cannot exceed 30 miles per hour, and cannot operate when rain or fog is too heavy.
Pony.ai has also tested its technology in Silicon Valley and plans to expand to the other two Chinese Tier 1 cities in 2024 and 2025. Since going live, Pony.ai said it has made more than 700,000 trips, with nearly 80% repetitions. users and a positive rating of 99%. ®