Amid headlines of the impending arrival of autonomous vehicles (AVs) on China’s roads, Michael Shu, general manager of the Auto Intelligent Ecology Institute at Chinese automotive manufacturer BYD, says the technology should be viewed with a level head.
“We need to look at self-driving cars with a calm eye,” he told attendees at TechCrunch Shenzhen today (November 19). “Driverless cars need to become more mature, rules and regulations still need to be formulated, and ethical issues need to be solved.”
AVs have become a hot topic—especially in China. Earlier this year, the country issued a set of national standards for AV testing. Before this, regional standards had been implemented, slowing the development process. To speed up advancement, Chinese tech companies have been partnering with vehicle manufacturers. Search giant Baidu has partnered with automotive firms including BYD and Ford to develop and test self-driving cars.
China is betting that intelligent vehicles will be a vast market, projecting the industry to reach $14 billion in the next two years. China’s planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, has issued guidelines for autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle adoption to reach 50% of all cars by 2020.
But there are still a significant number of challenges in AV development. Shu says another major issue is data security.
“If an autonomous vehicle is hacked, the physical safety of the passengers can be compromised. Vehicles need to be more secure,” he said. He also says that the technology needs to improve.
Self-driving vehicles are categorized from Level 0 to Level 5. Most cars currently on the road are wholly dependent on their drivers to function, putting them in the first category. Level 1 vehicles include the seeds of automation with features like cruise control. US auto manufacturer Tesla’s AutoPilot, which can control the speed of the car and its steering, is an example of a Level 2 system.
Self-driving car firms are currently focusing on Level 4 capabilities, fully autonomous vehicles within certain road and weather conditions.
However, Baidu, China’s poster child of AV development has faced significant roadblocks when testing its vehicles in the US. According to data released by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, the company’s test vehicles required human intervention when driving every 66 kilometers on average. In comparison, GM’s Cruise required “disengagements” every 7,400 kilometers and Google’s Waymo every 9,900 kilometers.