Shanghai taxi driver Yuan Wei isn’t concerned about being replaced by autonomous vehicles (AVs). “No one will be able to afford an unmanned car,” he says. “It must be expensive. Maybe RMB 1 million (around $150,000) or RMB 2 million.” Yuan may be right about the price of a driverless car—at least given today’s technology—but the threat to his livelihood may be closer than it appears.

The middle-aged cabbie was driving around Anting Town, the hotbed for automobile innovation that lies 40 kilometers northwest of downtown Shanghai. In Anting, charging stations for electric vehicles line the streets and electric taxis seem to outnumber their gas-guzzling counterparts. As Yuan pulled over to pick me up, a sign overhead drew my attention: “Intelligent Connected Vehicle Test Road,” it read. Unbeknownst to Yuan, he had stumbled upon one of two government-approved testing areas for self-driving cars in the city.

“There are driverless cars here?” he asked later. “I haven’t seen any.”

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Chris Udemans

Christopher Udemans is a Shanghai-based technology reporter. He covers Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, and cybersecurity. You can contact him at chrisudemans [at] technode [dot] com.