Baidu and Pony.ai's autonomous driving vehicles test on the street in Yizhuang in Beijing's southern suburb. (CHINA DAILY)
Driverless: Trials a solid foundation for commercial run
A larger fleet of driverless taxis will soon be available for hire in the capital city as the Office of the Beijing High-Level Autonomous Driving Demonstration Zone has decided to launch the commercial operation of autonomous vehicles and expand their serviceable area.
On Friday, authorities in Beijing made a policy decision to allow eligible companies to operate driverless taxis without safety supervisors on board and charge passengers for the rides, marking a definite step in commercialization of intelligent transportation.
Self-driving taxis were rolled out on a trial basis in the capital in March following a series of road tests, which were conducted with safety supervisors on board.
Chinese tech giant Baidu and autonomous mobility startup Pony.ai won permits back then to operate driverless taxis through their ride-hailing apps within a 60-square-kilometer area in Yizhuang, located in the southern suburbs of Beijing. The trial rides were free for passengers.
Now, the Office of the Beijing High-Level Autonomous Driving Demonstration Zone plans to allow commercial operation of the driverless taxis in an area of 500 sq km. Interested companies are required to apply for commercial operation permits.
According to the office, 116 self-driving taxis have been operating in Beijing on a trial basis for the past four months. They have completed over 1.5 million test trips, and the total length of the trips reached nearly 2 million km. More than 95 percent of passenger ratings have been favorable.
All the preliminary tests and free trials have laid a solid foundation for the commercial launch of unmanned vehicles and provided a wealth of experience in unmanned demonstration applications, said Xu Hongwei, executive deputy director of the office.
During the commercial run of driverless taxis, more attention will be paid to the assessment of service capabilities of autonomous mobility companies, with the focus being on reviewing three risk aspects — passenger safety, traffic conditions and autonomous driving functions, he said.
At the same time, tailored daily supervision and emergency plans will be formulated for the unmanned commercial fleet to ensure that these vehicles run smoothly and safely on roads, he added.
Dai Wanli, a 35-year-old Beijing resident, said she and her family took a ride in a driverless taxi in May at Shougang Park, one of the venues for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
"We booked a ride using a mobile phone app and followed instructions to the closest stop to board a self-driving taxi. We scanned the code, the door opened on its own and we hopped in," Dai said, pointing out that it was a very smooth ride, unlike some manned taxis.
"My son absolutely loved the ride. We've seen other special projects in the industrial park, but this one is by far the most impressive," she said, adding that they planned to book another ride soon.
Last month, Xin Guobin, vice-minister of industry and information technology, said at a news conference that China has opened up a road network of more than 15,000 km to test intelligent vehicles, including taxis and buses, involving multiple self-driving scenarios such as autonomous valet parking and unmanned delivery.