Self-driving firms AutoX, Pony.AI granted California robotaxi permits

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AutoX’s first robotaxi fleet in California, United States. (Image credit: AutoX)

Chinese autonomous vehicle (AV) startups, AutoX and Pony.ai, are joining an exclusive group of companies approved to offer self-driving rides to the public in California after receiving approvals from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Tuesday.

The certificate, which expires on June 18, 2022, means the companies are approved to transport people in driverless vehicles for testing over the public highways in the state over the next three years under the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot. Vehicles must have a trained test driver behind the wheel ready to take over, charge no fees, and provide regulators with quarterly reports for each AV operating in the program.

AutoX said  that it was the first carrier to offer robotaxi pilot service to residents in California in a press release sent to TechNode on Thursday. Around 10 Level 4 driverless vehicles will be introduced through a mobile application in some areas of north San Jose and Santa Clara cities.

Pony.ai was not immediately available for comment and so far has been quiet on whether it will roll out the service, reported Chinese media. 

CPUC granted the first permit to US self-driving startup Zoox in December last year. The Foster City, California-based company reportedly plans to launch its autonomous ride-hailing service in San Francisco in 2020.

So far, more than 60 companies, including Zoox, AutoX, and Pony.ai, have already obtained permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for AV testing on public roads, but they need separate permits from the state utilities commission to offer public transport services.

AutoX and Pony.ai have also been among the first batch of recipients for licenses to conduct road testing in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou earlier this month, along with Guangzhou Automobile Group, and Chinese self-driving startups WeRide and Deepblue.

Pony.ai is so far the best-performing Chinese AV company, ranking fifth with 1,022.3 MpD (Miles per Disengagement) in the annual autonomous vehicle testing report released by the California DMV. Its outcome was far higher than its peers including Baidu (205.6), AutoX (190.8), and WeRide (173.5), but still way behind Alphabet subsidiary Waymo which had one disengagement every 11,017 miles.

AutoX, however, reported the largest number of miles traveled among the six Chinese companies at 22,710 miles between Nov. 31, 2017 through Dec. 1, 2018, followed by Baidu, whose vehicles traveled 18,093 miles in the same period.