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 proper, operates in the Yizhuang suburban district of Beijing alongside Pony.ai’s model. The two autos are pictured right here in November 2021 shortly after Beijing allowed the corporations to cost fares.

Vcg | Visual China Group | Getty Images

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

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

That fully eliminates the value of a driver. Previously, business public-facing robotaxis have been required to have an worker to sit down inside with the passenger. Yizhuang district is about half an hour’s drive from downtown Beijing and is residence to firms akin to JD.com.

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

“We have very excessive confidence … possibly solely in three years, our full driverless autos are going to be operating over the complete Beijing city,” he mentioned in an interview with CNBC on Monday.

Citing conversations with Beijing’s mayor, Zhang mentioned that by the finish of the 12 months, the city goals to broaden robotaxi testing areas to Daxing International Airport and round one practice station.

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

The city has additionally beforehand introduced basic plans to increase the testing area for robotaxis.

Less than two years in the past, in November 2021, Beijing city allowed the robotaxi operators to gather fares for public-facing rides, a primary step towards eliminating the value of the driver. People can ebook extremely sponsored robotaxi rides from Baidu and Pony.ai in Yizhuang district through the corporations’ apps.

Out of greater than 200 robotaxis that Pony.ai operates in the area, solely about ten are at present fully driverless, Zhang mentioned. He famous that Beijing city considers seven elements in a phased strategy of permitting public robotaxi operation, together with which seat the security driver is sitting in and whether or not the automotive is getting used for testing or for business operation.

After preliminary testing, Zhang expects fully driverless robotaxis might function round Daxing airport subsequent 12 months.

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

Robotaxi security

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

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

Pony.ai’s Zhang claimed the startup has by no means had any fully driverless public-facing robotaxi accidents in China, and that it has the finest security document in the world.

When requested about the security document of different robotaxi operators in China, Zhang mentioned he couldn’t share particulars however mentioned opponents have had accidents.

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

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 document that helps additional authorities permits for robotaxi operations depends closely on knowledge.

Pony.ai’s Zhang mentioned the firm cleans its knowledge by eradicating delicate info akin to automobile license plate numbers and knowledge associated to the id of an individual — together with erasure of faces from movies.

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

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

Read extra about electrical autos, batteries and chips from CNBC Pro

Chinese tech big 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 big mentioned it obtained 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 elements of Wuhan and Chongqing.

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

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



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