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China’s capital city Beijing has big plans for robotaxis, Pony.ai says

Baidu’s Apollo Go robotaxi, on the proper, operates within the Yizhuang suburban district of Beijing alongside Pony.ai’s model. The two automobiles are pictured right here in November 2021 shortly after Beijing allowed the businesses 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 absolutely autonomous taxis, with no human employees inside.

That absolutely eliminates the price of a driver. Previously, industrial 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 dwelling to companies comparable to JD.com.

More approvals for robotaxi operations within the city are coming, stated Ning Zhang, vp at Pony.ai and head of its Beijing analysis and growth heart.

“We have very high confidence … maybe only in three years, our full driverless vehicles are going to be running over the whole Beijing city,” he stated in an interview with CNBC on Monday.

Citing conversations with Beijing’s mayor, Zhang stated that by the tip of the 12 months, the city goals to increase robotaxi testing areas to Daxing International Airport and round one prepare station.

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

The city has additionally beforehand introduced basic plans to extend the testing space 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 price of the motive force. People can e book extremely backed robotaxi rides from Baidu and Pony.ai in Yizhuang district by way of the businesses’ apps.

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

After preliminary testing, Zhang expects absolutely 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 absolutely driverless robotaxis it might function as of the announcement.

Robotaxi security

In the U.S., San Francisco has been one of many main cities testing robotaxis. In August, California state authorities stated 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 stated Cruise must scale back its robotaxi fleet by 50% in San Francisco. The firm’s self-driving automobiles have been not too long ago concerned in a number of crashes.

Pony.ai’s Zhang claimed the startup has by no means had any absolutely driverless public-facing robotaxi accidents in China, and that it has one of the best security report on the planet.

When requested in regards to the security report of different robotaxi operators in China, Zhang stated he couldn’t share particulars however stated rivals have had accidents.

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

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.

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Building a security observe report that helps additional authorities permits for robotaxi operations depends closely on knowledge.

Pony.ai’s Zhang stated the corporate cleans its knowledge by eradicating delicate info comparable to car license plate numbers and knowledge associated to the identification of an individual — together with erasure of faces from movies.

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

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

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

Chinese tech large 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 large stated 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 components of Wuhan and Chongqing.

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

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


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