China readies self-driving taxi fleet

Written by Staff Writer

Joe Bavier

Self-driving cars have yet to make major inroads into the United States, but at the moment, they are flying all over China.

Two small companies, Yuchai International Group and Geely Automobile , are seriously pushing the limits of autonomous vehicle capabilities, designing self-driving trucks and cabs that are ramping up the stakes in what the country’s most populous country is calling “Transportation 2030.”

At the National Autonomous Systems Development Conference in Suzhou, Chongqing, Yuchai and Geely jointly announced an agreement to establish autonomous battery delivery trucks, as well as three other companies — Feihe International and China Green Tanker Leasing, and Hercules Automobile — that will build automated lorries.

The companies expect their China fleet to account for 33% of China’s commercial fleet in 2030, up from around 3% in 2020. That’s a big jump from Beijing’s current projection of just 2% for 2030.

The news was delivered at the National Autonomous Systems Development Conference in Suzhou, Chongqing, China , which wrapped up on April 13. The conference is a high-profile annual event, where over 350 companies from 80 Chinese cities attend to see what’s being built in other parts of the country.

Joe Bavier

Older technology

For the first time, a robotic taxi was also added to the program, bringing an innovation that the companies say helps them create an industry that is different from other auto industries and does not rely on human power.

The kopitiam, a self-driving C-mini Citroen van, has been used for trials for the past two years. In 2016, it was deployed commercially in China’s autonomous test city Zhuhai for a few days; the autonomous vehicle connects directly to the company’s central control room, where it is monitored 24 hours a day by a network of GPS-enabled computers and sensors.

“Our first model will have four seats, but as development progresses the number of passengers will increase, perhaps to six,” said Shigeru Yokoyama, director of Yuchai’s autonomous testing department.

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Part of the challenge for autonomous taxis is developing standards for both national and local transportation regulation, and a typical journey from Beijing to Zhengzhou will take on average three hours.

Chinese media reports that regulators are worried about how the vehicles, which are expected to function under majority automation (80% using sensors and cameras and 20% driving by a human, reports) might affect other safety issues, such as road accidents and casualties among pedestrians.

Joe Bavier

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