China steps on the gas with on-road trial of autonomous vehicles

(Xinhua) 09:48, December 10, 2021

An autonomous vehicle (1st R) is in driverless test on a road in Yizhuang of Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 19, 2021.(Xinhua/Peng Ziyang)

BEIJING, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- Futuristic self-driving vehicles-- representing a new way of life behind the wheel -- went into on-road commercial trial in late November in Yizhuang of Beijing.

The feat is a major leap by China into developing its autonomous vehicle industry.

The trial operation area in Yizhuang, also known as E-Town, registered the first self-driving commercial trial pilot in China, the world's second largest economy. Chinese tech giant Baidu and Pony.ai were the first companies authorized to launch the pilot services.

So far, they have put no more than 100 autonomous vehicles into commercial service within an area of 60 square km in Yizhuang.

Relevant regulations were also issued by the city's high-level autonomous driving demonstration zone office to support the development of the emerging industry.

This marks a new stage in China's autonomous driving sector from testing and demonstration to commercialization pilot, said Chen Xiaobo, deputy director of the research center for transportation economy at the National Development and Reform Commission.

"The commercial trial of self-driving vehicles is a critical phase prior to its final application, which is conducive to cultivating an innovative and competitive self-driving industrial chain and supply chain in China," Chen said.

An autonomous vehicle is in driverless test on a road in Yizhuang of Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 19, 2021. (Xinhua/Peng Ziyang)


A passenger can hail a self-driving taxi at an assigned station through a Baidu car-hailing App, and about three minutes later, a self-driving taxi will arrive. Currently, the commercial trial -- a 2.8 km trip -- takes about 7 minutes and costs 1.46 yuan (about 23 U.S. cents).

Besides Baidu's taxi-hailing service, another company Pony.ai was authorized to launch the self-driving truck which has undertaken about 16,400 tonnes of commercial freight transportation with a cumulative mileage of over 50,000 km.

Pony.ai has launched the PonyPilot service in Guangzhou and Silicon Valley, providing more than 500,000 free trips.

"Robotaxi and Robotruck are two major emerging fields in self-driving industry. More and more people now believe that information technology will reform the means of transportation," said Wei Dong, vice president of Baidu Intelligent Driving Group.

At present, the self-driving pilot service has been extended to cities nationwide. Shanghai set up 253 self-driving test roads in four demonstration zones while Wuxi City, in east China's Jiangsu Province, is scheduled to launch three self-driving buses routes. In Baoding, north China's Hebei Province, 84 crossroads are equipped with AI-powered signal control systems, saving drivers 20 percent of the time on each trip.

An autonomous vehicle is in driverless test on a road in Yizhuang of Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 19, 2021. (Xinhua/Peng Ziyang)


As the self-driving industry evolves rapidly, the Chinese government has issued regulations and policies to facilitate the development of the industry, including the strategy for the innovative development of intelligent vehicles and the new-energy vehicle development plan (2021-2035).

Peng Jun, co-founder and CEO of Pony.ai, said that policy, technology, and public acceptance are key to the rapid commercialization of self-driving vehicles, which requires large-scale trials.

A total of 27 provinces and cities in China have rolled out regulations on self-driving vehicles, established 16 autonomous driving demonstration zones, and opened more than 3,500 km of test roads.

Meanwhile, experts pointed out that attention should be paid to the data security of self-driving networks, which requires a coordinated policy and system design to guarantee a sound development of the self-driving industry.

Wei said the development of self-driving vehicles in China has entered a fast lane, which will become a safe and time-saving choice for the public. Kong Lei, director of the Beijing high-level autonomous driving demonstration zone office, said Beijing will expand the commercial trial areas in due time.

Zhou Ji, member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that the next 15 years represent a critical period in the development of intelligent manufacturing, a core technology in the new round of industrial revolution, which is also an important opportunity for China. 

(Web editor: Shi Xi, Liang Jun)


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