What happened: Chinese autonomous driving startup Pony.ai has launched a WeChat mini-program allowing users in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou to hail autonomous taxis. The app was quietly released in late December. It allows passengers to hail the self-driving taxis from a pre-set location in the city’s Nansha District to other areas including Pony.ai’s offices and residential buildings, all of which are set by the company. Currently, only Pony.ai’s employees and a few VIPs can use the app.
Why it’s important: While rides are free, the company collects data during every trip, which helps to further enhance the capabilities of its autonomous driving systems. Pony.ai hopes to grow its fleet of vehicles from 20 to 100 in 2019, thereby further increasing its data collection capabilities. The company eventually want to scale the platform to create a new revenue stream—a move that could put it in competition with ride-hailing giant Didi.