Much like in Silicon Valley, the self-driving scene in China is going through a turbulent period. Chinese ride-hailing giant DiDi Chuxing lost the president of DiDi Research Dr He Xiaofei which has reportedly set up its own driverless truck venture. The news has been confirmed by DiDi to TechNode.
According to 36Kr, He Xiaofei left his job quietly as early as last year when it was rumored that he returned to teach at Zhejiang University. According to insiders quoted by the report, He set up his unmanned truck company which has reportedly entered road test stage.
DiDi does not seem discouraged by the loss of their expert. DiDi’s head of autonomous driving is Jia Zhaoyin who previously worked at Google’s Waymo. In February, DiDi revealed that they have completed a series of driving tests for its autonomous cars. The company is actively testing over 10 prototyped vehicles in three cities in China and US since last year. In January, it launched “Didi Smart Transportation Brain,” a solution that brings data from government and other partners to develop a city traffic management powered by AI and cloud technology.
He Xiaofei was in charge of DiDi’s big data business and an important contributor DiDi’s driverless project. He is also an artificial intelligence and machine learning expert. Using DiDi’s huge trove of data on traffic, He researched projects such as accurate ETA, car-pooling, intelligent subsidies, predicting supply and demand and transport capacity dispatching. Before joining DiDi, he worked as a research scientist at Yahoo! Research Labs, and then joined Zhejiang University in 2007.
Reports did not specify the name of He’s self-driving venture but if the former DiDi expert has indeed entered the field it would not be a surprise. Driverless trucks are a hot area with players like Google Waymo, Uber, and Tesla testing vehicles. Automakers like Volvo are also entering the field. Experts believe that driverless trucks may achieve faster commercialization than passenger cars. Self-driving cars have to face more complex traffic scenarios than trucks at the same time adapting to user experience. Self-driving trucks are also bound to leave many truckers out of work.
Update 16 March 2018, 10:46 AM: A previous version of this post stated that He Xiaofei is the founding member of DiDi’s autonomous driving. This information has been denied by DiDi Chuxing.