QCraft launched the pilot service with initial deployment of five robobuses in the downtown area of Wuxi on Oct. 23.

Self-driving startup QCraft has begun operating an autonomous shuttle bus pilot project in an eastern Chinese city, the latest example of local entrants racing to make driverless transport commonplace in the country.

Two-year-old QCraft, backed by tech giants Bytedance and Meituan, currently operates a fleet of around 70 self-driving mini-buses in several major cities, including Shenzhen and Wuhan, the largest fleet of its kind in China.

Now, the company is expanding its footprint with the launch of a robobus project in the downtown area of Wuxi, a city in the eastern Jiangsu province, which started taking local residents on rides on Oct. 23.

Initially deploying five robobuses for three routes totaling 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), QCraft said its pilot service covers a range of about 10 square kilometers in the busiest portions of the city and connects major shopping centers and subway stations to residential properties.

On Oct. 23, TechNode got a look at the driverless future with a ride on one of QCraft’s Wuxi buses. The electric mini-bus model, called Longzhou One, is equipped with an extensive self-driving sensor suite including five Lidar units, four front cameras, and two millimeter-wave radar units, making it capable of seeing objects from long distances of up to 250 meters.

The self-driving buses still have a driver to reassure passengers and comply with government rules. The driver took control of the vehicle once during a 15-minute ride when a large bus zoomed past it in the overtaking lane.

The buses typically travel between 30-50 km/h (19-31 mph) and are currently programmed on fixed routes. Each bus carries a maximum of nine passengers and has a driving range of up to 200 km (124 miles) on a single charge. 

Passengers can access real-time transit information from the company’s app on their phones. The buses operate from 9 am to 6 pm on weekdays, which the company said will meet the needs of nearby residents with their daily commute.

After receiving $100 million from reputable investors, including Meituan and Jack Ma’s YF Capital, QCraft is on track to expand its test fleet to more than 100 vehicles by year-end.

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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