Beijing to allow autonomous taxis to run tests in city suburb

2 min read
Baidu Apollo driverless cars under testing in Beijing. (Image credit: Baidu)

The Beijing municipal government is developing new autonomous vehicle (AV) testing facilities that will allow robotaxis to run on the outskirts of the city, said a report by The Beijing News, the latest development in a race for leadership in one of the country’s hottest tech sectors.

Why it matters: The announcement followed news from Didi Chuxing and AutoX last week detailing plans to begin testing their robotaxi services in a northwest Shanghai suburb. Competition remains intense between major cities to roll out AV initiatives in support of the central government’s aspirations to assume global leadership in core technologies.

  • Didi and AutoX will launch autonomous taxi pilot programs in Shanghai’s northern Jiading district as early as the end of this year.
  • Guangzhou has courted AV frontrunner Pony.ai with a customized approach, allowing it to operate dozens of driverless vehicles in the city’s Nansha district since December, while granting 20 licenses to another AV startup WeRide for road tests in June.

Detail: The government of Beijing’s Shunyi district on Tuesday unveiled plans allowing self-driving vehicle tests along public roads extending 135 kilometers in the northern suburb, reported The Beijing News.

  • By 2020, about 80 kilometers of public roads within the area will be equipped with 5G networks to enable connectivity for vehicles and road sensors, according to an official from the district bureau of economy and information technology.
  • The district’s industry regulator said that robocar ride services will be available for order in designated pick-up areas within a 42-square kilometer area near Beijing’s Olympic Park Aquatic Center. A timeframe was not revealed.
  • Shunyi district is the capital city’s automotive center where Chinese OEM BAIC and its manufacturing partners Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz, as well as BMW’s China research and development center, are located. It covers an area of 1,021 square kilometers.

Didi to launch autonomous taxi service in Shanghai

Bottom line: Beijing was an early mover in driverless vehicle technology development with its December 2017 launch (in Chinese) of China’s first municipal-level regulations for AV road tests. The government has opened a total of 123 kilometers in the Shunyi, Haidian, and Yizhuang districts for AV tests, more than any other cities in the country as of August.

  • However, all of the roads are located in suburban areas, a conservative strategy that made Beijing less appealing to AV companies, which seek data on real-life driving scenarios.
  • Beijing-based Baidu in late 2018 formed a partnership with the Changsha municipal government to run 100 robotaxis in central Hunan Province’s capital at the end of this year.
  • The Chinese search giant was fined by Beijing traffic police in late 2017 after CEO Robin Li tested a driverless car on public roads and streamed the ride in real-time at a company event.