Beijing is paving the way for unmanned robots. China’s capital city issues licenses to auto startups and the Chinese internet giant to offer self-driving car services to the public, both companies announced today. Both operations will start on a small scale – Baidu’s fleet will consist of 10 vehicles and Pony.ai will run 4 vehicles, CNBC. Ultimately, both companies have plans to expand their operations in the city.
The Beijing government is requiring an employee on duty on each driverless vehicle to make sure everything goes smoothly. But employees are not required to sit in the driver’s seat. Both companies have been testing driverless taxis in and other major cities in China, but it is imperative to have a safe driver behind the wheel.
An added perk for Beijingers is that driving in driverless cars will be free, at least for now. Companies are still waiting for government approval to charge for the service. Until then, potential riders can ride through Pony.ai’s or Baidu’s PonyPilot+ app. application. However, there is a caveat. Trips are currently limited to the 23.1 square mile area in Yizhuang, on the outskirts of Beijing. There is also no door-to-door pick-up service. Instead, riders will be asked to choose from a number of public pick-up and drop-off locations, including subway stations, parks and stadiums.
Pony.ai ran into some challenges while testing its self-driving technology in the US. California suspended the Chinese company’s test license last year after due to a glitch in Pony.ai’s AV software. No one was harmed in the accident and no other vehicles were affected. Issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles of all vehicles involved in the accident to which Pony.ai was compliant.
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