It may be the world’s largest car market, but China is still behind the US when it comes to the goal of putting driverless vehicles on the road, according to the chief exevcutive of a Chinese autonomous driving start-up that has just raised US$214 million.
“The gap between the US and China [on autonomous driving] remains, including technology innovation, data collection and talent cultivation,” James Peng, chief executive of Pony.ai, said in an interview on Friday. “However, the gap is narrowing every day and China is playing catch-up.”
Waymo, Alphabet’s driverless car division, and General Motors' Cruise are far ahead of their local and international rivals in terms of miles travelled without human intervention, according to annual data compiled by California motor transport officials.
The catch up efforts are not being left to chance, with Chinese authorities formulating technology standards and industry guidelines for self driving vehicles early this year, according to the China Internet Report published jointly by the South China Morning Post, Abacus and 500 Startups. The development of smart cars has been made a national priority. Chinese autonomous driving companies are actively raising funds and conducting road tests to accelerate their efforts to put driverless cars on the road.
Pony.ai’s “robotaxis” are currently being tested by invited members of the public, though a driver is still behind the wheel in case of emergencies. Peng said the self-driving fleet is being “demonstrated” within a 30 square kilometre area in Guangzhou’s Nansha district before it can be expanded to a larger area.
“The fleet is working well in the area and the service could be opened up to the general public in the coming two years,” he added. Peng believes the next major challenge for autonomous cars will be moving from demonstration areas to small and medium scale deployments.
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