Didi Chuxing shows off autonomous car on public roads
Ride-hailing company still lags behind Western firms in driverless taxi race
Less than a year after Didi Chuxing officially opened its autonomous driving research lab in the United States, the Uber rival revealed it has already tested self-driving cars on public roads.
During its annual meeting this year, Didi Chuxing showed a video of a car driving by itself through a Chinese city.
The video hasn’t been made public -- only snapshots of it have been released -- but Didi Chuxing said the car was able to make turns, as well as detect pedestrians, traffic and stationary obstacles. The firm says it is testing driverless cars in both China and the U.S.
Didi Chuxing joins a crowded list of tech firms and traditional carmakers competing to make headway in a race to roll out vehicles that can travel safely in cities without human drivers.
According to California’s DMV, at least 50 companies have approval to test driverless cars on public roads in the state -- including big names such as Waymo, Apple and Tesla, as well as several from China, like Baidu, Pony.ai and NIO.
Western companies still seem to have an edge in the race for self-driving cars. No Chinese company makes the top ten in Navigant Research’s annual autonomous driving scorecard.
The list is topped by GM, which wants to kick off its own autonomous robo-taxi service in urban areas next year. Uber and Lyft have offered limited autonomous rides in some cities.
Legacy car companies like GM, Ford and Volkswagen dominate the list, but Google’s sister company Waymo is an exception, ranking second. The Alphabet subsidiary has already put self-driving cars on public roads without any human backups. It plans to launch its first fully driverless commercial taxi fleet in Phoenix, Arizona this year.
Baidu didn’t make the top ten, but China’s artificial intelligence giant still came in ahead of Uber, Tesla, and Apple. Baidu has vowed to deliver a driverless car this year and begin mass production by 2021. But it faces tough competition from startups founded by alumni, including JingChi -- led by Baidu’s former autonomous driving chief -- and Pony.ai -- set up by ex-Baidu engineers.
For Chinese companies, the clogged and often chaotic roads of urban China create an especially challenging environment. Pony.ai, JinChi and Roadstar.ai have all moved their headquarters from Silicon Valley back to China in their quest to surge past domestic rivals.
The country is aiming high for a driverless future: It expects at least 10 percent of vehicles to be “highly autonomous” by 2025, and fully autonomous by 2030.