Uber’s biggest rival in China is getting into the self-driving game.
Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has announced plans to launch a fleet of autonomous taxis.
Aiming to become the first large-scale self-driving taxi service in China, Didi plans to roll out its Level 4 self-driving vehicles in the Jiading District of Shanghai.
After Shanghai’s government approved permits for testing the AV fleet on Wednesday, Didi Chuxing founder and CEO Cheng Wei announced the service at Shanghai’s World Artificial Intelligence Conference on Friday, where the company demonstrated the autonomous taxis on a closed track.
“Technology only has worth when it brings value to people’s lives. We believe giving ordinary citizens access to large-scale, shared autonomous fleets is key to achieving our shared goal of safety, efficiency and sustainability for future cities,” said Cheng in a press statement.
According to Reuters, the cars will have a human driver present, and will be realised in 30 different car models geared up with Level 4 autonomy. It’s worth noting that Level 4 autonomy, as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, basically means full self-driving cars in some (not all) scenarios, and has not been achieved by any automaker yet, at least not in any publicly available sense. Trips will reportedly be able to exceed 6.21 miles (10 kilometres). Exact dates for launch have not been revealed.
“Working with our auto-industry partners, DiDi has the potential to become the first business to realise large-scale robo-taxi service in China,” added Zhang Bo, CTO of DiDi and CEO of DiDi’s autonomous driving company.
As CNBC points out, however, Didi is not the first company to announce plans for a self-driving taxi service in China, pointing to tech company Baidu, which plans to launch a service in Changsha in late 2019, while Pony.ai has plans for the Nansha district of Guangzhou.
Plans for self-driving taxi services have been wheeled out in multiple countries over the last few years from Dubai to Japan. In the U.S., Uber revealed its newest self-driving car in June, while Waymo has been treading this path for some time now. Even Elon Musk has Tesla taxi plans.
Waymo, the autonomous vehicle company from Google parent company Alphabet launched its self-driving taxi service, Waymo One, in Phoenix late 2018. Then, in March, Waymo and Lyft partnered up to offer self-driving options on the ride-hailing app.
In June, Waymo announced plans to launch its self-driving cars outside the U.S. — specifically, to France and Japan, in partnership with Renault and Nissan. Notably, Waymo said in a release at the time that a potential global expansion would not include China — good news for Didi.
Exactly how Didi’s self-driving vehicles will navigate the complicated streets of Shanghai remains to be explained.