China’s push to lead the world self-driving race is making another step forward: Didi Chuxing and AutoX are both about to launch their own autonomous ride-hailing pilot projects on the outskirts of Shanghai in late May, two sources familiar with the matter told TechNode on Tuesday. The projects are separate. The companies started their partnerships with the Shanghai government around the same time.

Why it matters: As Chinese local governments continue to support road testing, Didi and AutoX, among other newcomers, are attempting to elbow further into the crowded race led by Pony.ai and Baidu.

  • The news comes days after Didi’s self-driving unit was reportedly closing a $300 million investment deal with its main backer SoftBank, only a month after another Didi’s investor Toyota poured $400 million in Pony.ai, the biggest funding round in Chinese autonomous driving arena.

Read more: Didi is close to $300 million deal with Softbank

Details: Ride-hailing giant Didi is planning to launch a robot ride-hailing pilot service in Shanghai as early as May and so is AutoX, two persons with direct knowledge confirmed to TechNode on Tuesday.

  • “Didi is actively testing robo-taxi in Shanghai and we hope to launch the pilot service as soon as possible,” a company spokesperson told TechNode.
  • AutoX on Friday announced the opening of what it claimed the Asia’s largest robotaxi operations center in Shanghai.
  • Covering an area of around 750 square meter in the northwestern Jiading district, the Shanghai operation is expected to collect and process “petabytes” of driving data from road testing in Shanghai each week, AutoX said in an announcement.
  • The operation will also be used for performance training simulations in a virtual traffic environment, while offering facilities to test hardware in climate conditions such as high-pressure water, and high temperature.
  • The company claims that users “will soon be able to hail a ride” in its AVs, although the app is yet to be revealed. Business partners in making this operation center were also undisclosed.
  • AutoX is backed by China’s biggest automakers SAIC and Dongfeng, as well as Alibaba.

Context: Shanghai government in September issued China’s first licenses for passenger-carrying self-driving cars in an area of 65 square kilometers to Volkswagen’s partner SAIC, BMW and Didi, followed by AutoX in December.

  • Little progress has been revealed since then, as the official greenlight has not been given for testing, according to people close to the matter.
  • Didi and AutoX late last year revealed plans to roll out 30 and 100 robotaxis in Shanghai as early as year-end, or early in 2020, respectively, as part of their efforts to lead the driverless mobility future.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen