China's capital city is letting the public take fully driverless robotaxis — and has bigger rollout plans, startup Pony.ai says

Baidu’s Apollo Go robotaxi, on the best, operates within the Yizhuang suburban district of Beijing alongside Pony.ai’s model. The two automobiles are pictured right here in November 2021 shortly after Beijing allowed the businesses to cost fares.

Vcg | Visual China Group | Getty Images

BEIJING — China’s capital metropolis is taking swift steps to permit robotaxi companies to develop.

As of Tuesday, the suburban Beijing metropolis district of Yizhuang is formally letting native robotaxi operators — primarily Baidu and startup Pony.ai — cost fares for totally autonomous taxis, with no human employees inside.

That totally eliminates the price of a driver. Previously, business public-facing robotaxis have been required to have an worker to take a seat inside with the passenger. Yizhuang district is about half an hour’s drive from downtown Beijing and is house to companies similar to JD.com.

More approvals for robotaxi operations within the metropolis are coming, stated Ning Zhang, vp at Pony.ai and head of its Beijing analysis and improvement middle.

“We have very high confidence … maybe only in three years, our full driverless vehicles are going to be running over the whole Beijing city,” he stated in an interview with CNBC on Monday.

Citing conversations with Beijing’s mayor, Zhang stated that by the tip of the yr, town goals to develop robotaxi testing areas to Daxing International Airport and round one practice station.

In July, Beijing Mayor Yin Yong met individually with Pony.ai, Alibaba and Xiaomi to encourage their work in linked vehicles, synthetic intelligence and different superior tech. That’s in response to a state media report republished by Pony.ai on its official WeChat account.

The metropolis has additionally beforehand introduced normal plans to extend the testing space for robotaxis.

Less than two years in the past, in November 2021, Beijing metropolis allowed the robotaxi operators to gather fares for public-facing rides, a primary step towards eliminating the price of the motive force. People can guide extremely sponsored robotaxi rides from Baidu and Pony.ai in Yizhuang district through the businesses’ apps.

Out of greater than 200 robotaxis that Pony.ai operates within the area, solely about ten are at the moment totally driverless, Zhang stated. He famous that Beijing metropolis considers seven components in a phased technique of permitting public robotaxi operation, together with which seat the protection driver is sitting in and whether or not the automotive is getting used for testing or for business operation.

After preliminary testing, Zhang expects totally driverless robotaxis might function round Daxing airport subsequent yr.

Beijing metropolis didn’t instantly reply to a CNBC request for remark. Baidu didn’t share what number of totally driverless robotaxis it might function as of the announcement.

Robotaxi security

In the U.S., San Francisco has been one of many main cities testing robotaxis. In August, California state authorities stated Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise might supply paid robotaxi companies in San Francisco and carry passengers all through town, 24 hours a day.

Shortly after, the California Department of Motor Vehicles stated Cruise must cut back its robotaxi fleet by 50% in San Francisco. The firm’s self-driving automobiles have been lately concerned in a number of crashes.

Pony.ai’s Zhang claimed the startup has by no means had any totally driverless public-facing robotaxi accidents in China, and that it has the most effective security report on the planet.

When requested in regards to the security report of different robotaxi operators in China, Zhang stated he couldn’t share particulars however stated opponents have had accidents.

When requested about its robotaxi security report in July, a consultant for Baidu referred CNBC to a report that didn’t present a lot readability on the problem.

Beijing Daxing International Airport lies south of downtown Beijing, designated by the yellow star, with the Yizhuang space close to the “G2” marker closest to downtown.

Google Maps

Building a security monitor report that helps additional authorities permits for robotaxi operations depends closely on information.

Pony.ai’s Zhang stated the corporate cleans its information by eradicating delicate data similar to car license plate numbers and information associated to the id of an individual — together with erasure of faces from movies.

He stated solely a restricted group of individuals have entry to delicate information and that China information stays in China, whereas any U.S. information stays within the U.S.

Pony.ai claims it has a valuation of $8.5 billion as of March 2022. Zhang stated the corporate goals to interrupt even by 2025.

Chinese tech large Baidu operates robotaxis, branded Apollo Go, in different cities in China and claims to have run greater than 3.3 million rides.

In June, the tech large stated it acquired approval to function robotaxis with out employees in a suburb of Shenzhen. That adopted comparable approval in August 2022 to take away human employees in some robotaxis in components of Wuhan and Chongqing.

Pony.ai additionally operates robotaxis in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai, Zhang stated.

— CNBC’s Kif Leswing and Lora Kolodny contributed to this story.


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