Robotaxi testing ramps up in Shenzhen as China accelerates its driverless car dream

On a busy street in the city center, three delivery bikes suddenly swerved across the pedestrian crossing in front of cars. On a car’s dashboard, they look like little 3D blue blocks from a 1990s video game.

The steering wheel shifts by itself and the car comes to a gentle stop, while the driver safely watches from the passenger seat.

The vehicle is one of hundreds of sensor-filled robots belonging to startup flying in the dense Futian central business district in China’s southern tech hub Shenzhen, bringing 50,000 passenger test trips last year.

While the US is considered to be at the forefront of the test autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, in Shenzhen, the industry seems to be changing gears, with testing robot quickly became a common site.

By Baidu Apollo unit, Toyota Motor-pony back, Nissan-behind WerideBacked by Alibaba Auto DISCLOSURE and Deeproute are all running tests navigating the city’s tough environment, with frequent pedestrians and popular e-scooters.

Shenzhen, a city of 18 million people, has now introduced China’s clearest AV regulations. As of Monday, registered AVs will be allowed to operate without a driver in the driver’s seat across a large swath of the city, but the driver must still be present in the vehicle.

So far, Chinese cities have allowed robots to operate on a more limited basis with permission from local governments, but Shenzhen’s regulations offer an important framework for the first time. to be held responsible in the event of an accident.

If the AV has a driver behind the wheel, the driver will be held liable in an accident. If the vehicle is completely unmanned, the vehicle owner will be held responsible. If a defect causes an accident, car owners can claim compensation from the manufacturer.

Maxwell Zhou, CEO of DeepRoute, said at the company’s office in a tech park near the Hong Kong border: “If you want more cars, eventually there will be accidents, so the regulations This is important for mass deployment.”

“This isn’t without real drivers but it’s an important milestone.”


The US has so far been ahead in AV tests, with California giving the green light to public road tests since 2014, allowing Alphabet Inc’s Waymo LLC, Cruise and Tesla to hit millions of miles. in road testing.

However, China is already on its way to accelerating momentum, with Beijing making AV a key area of ​​its latest five-year plan. Shenzhen wants its smart car industry to reach sales of 200 billion yuan by 2025.

In May last year, Cruise CEO Dan Amann warned President Joe Biden that US safety regulations risked leaving the country’s AV industry behind China, with “top-down, centrally directed” approach.

Deeproute aims to have 1,000 safety-car control robots on the roads of Shenzhen in the next few years, when more detailed regulations are expected.

But in a city with a fleet of 22,000 electric taxis from Shenzhen-based BYD, where a 20-kilometer (12-mile) ride costs about 60 yuan ($9), the AV’s production costs will need to drop before robots. Zhou said.

Deeproute and other robotaxi companies are working on mass production to reduce costs and collect data. Deeproute sells its driving solutions to tickers for around $3,000.

Zhou sees Shenzhen DJI Technology as a role model, with the company using lower hardware costs and integrated supply chains to make it the dominant player in the drone space. trade around the world.

On July 21, Baidu announced a new AV with a detachable steering wheel that it will use for control robots next year, priced at 250,000 yuan each, almost half the price of the previous generation. before.

“We are aiming for a future where traveling by robotaxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today,” Baidu CEO Robin Li said at the Baidu World conference.

Frog in the well

Shenzhen’s supply chain and lower costs give it a major manufacturing advantage over Silicon Valley, but AV solutions maker David Chang doesn’t want to be confined to one market.

“In Shenzhen, capital costs are one-third that of California, because we have battery suppliers, we have sensors,” said Shenzhen-based founder and CEO Whale Dynamic. variable, we have most of the integration.”

“But the revenue is one-twelfth for California, so it might not be a fancy business to do,” he said.

Deeproute, Weride and also have offices in Silicon Valley, with R&D and testing teams in both locations.

“We don’t want to cower into a well and fight other frogs. We want to jump out of that well,” says Chang.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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