China's self-driving cars on course for true road readiness

(Xinhua) 14:48, July 08, 2024

BEIJING, July 8 (Xinhua) -- China's autonomous driving sector is ramping up with a robust expansion of road testing sweeping the country.

This new phase sees the technology threading through the vibrant streets of populous metropolises, navigating the challenging topography of mountainous regions and making inroads into sectors such as agriculture and retail.

"For China, each road test is a step towards a future in which smart mobility redefines the urban and rural commute, with self-driving cars in the vanguard of a transportation revolution," said Du Xiaoping, technical director of cloud platform of National Innovation Center of Intelligent and Connected Vehicles.

By the end of 2023, the central Chinese metropolis of Wuhan had opened 3,379 km of one-way testing roads across 3,000 square km, benefiting 7.7 million local residents.

With only one month ahead of the second anniversary of the pilot program for autonomous driving in this city, the technology has now progressed to truly driverless operation without safety supervisors aboard. The fleet has since expanded to over 500 vehicles, extending operations to include cross-district travel and night driving, making Wuhan the world's largest operational area for autonomous driving services, said local authorities.

Even in the mountainous city of southwest China's Chongqing, the presence of autonomous buses and taxis is no longer a novelty. One of its districts, Yongchuan, has recorded 1,446 km of two-way testing roads across its entire 1,576 square km designated for driverless vehicles.

Road testing has now reached China's vast northern and western inland cities. In Hohhot, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China's first cross-border freight corridor designed for automated guided vehicles (AGVs) went fully operational last month.

"Testing autonomous vehicles in such intricate and varied environments is instrumental in amassing a wealth of training data, which in turn propels the advancement of autonomous driving technology in various regions throughout China," said Chen Zhuo, general manager of Baidu's self-driving business.

In economically vibrant cities, intelligent connected passenger cars, buses, cleaning vehicles, patrol cars and retail vehicles are also becoming a common scene.


In cities like Wuhan, driverless vehicles are now operating amidst bustling traffic without the presence of safety supervisors. Many industry insiders and experts believe that these vehicles are safer than people could have imagined.

As of April this year, Baidu has logged over 100 million km in autonomous driving tests and operations without a single major accident resulting in severe injuries.

The incident rate of driverless vehicles, including "Robotaxi," Baidu's online unmanned car-hailing services, is significantly lower than that of traditional vehicles, with most incidents being rear-end collisions caused by other vehicles behind, according to the Chinese tech giant.

There are stringent criteria for issuing licenses to autonomous vehicles, according to Chinese industry insiders.

Such criteria include rigorous testing of the vehicle's autonomous capabilities by third-party organizations and a comprehensive review by a joint working group comprising government departments of industry and information technology, transport and public security, Lin Xuexin, deputy director of the Hefei Intelligent and Connected Vehicles Innovation Center, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"All driverless vehicles on the road are linked to a central data-monitoring platform and in the event of any problems, relevant personnel will be dispatched to the site promptly," Lin added.

Despite the impressive performance of autonomous vehicles, many industry insiders believe there is still a long journey ahead before China's autonomous driving can achieve full commercialization.

China has adopted the "vehicle-road collaborative intelligence" approach from an early stage to develop its autonomous driving technology, said Li Xiaohui, a technologist at China Automotive Engineering Research Institute Co., Ltd.

"To realize such a collaborative system, it is essential to develop an array of supporting infrastructure, such as intelligent roads, wireless communication networks and high-precision positioning services in the future," Li explained.

Other experts also pointed out that China's top-level legal and regulatory framework regarding autonomous driving must be refined, building upon the local legislation that has already been enacted in various regions across China.

Zu Hui, deputy director of intelligent vehicles and smart mobility innovation center under China Merchants Testing Vehicle Technology Research Institute Co., Ltd., stresses the importance of clarified legal requirements for the operation of autonomous driving systems, accident determination boundaries and product liability.

"The commercial operation of autonomous vehicles requires substantial data accumulation and scenario training," said Feng Xingya, general manager of Chinese automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd. "Appropriate measures should be taken to relax the restrictions on collecting the required scenarios and geographical data."

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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