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Alibaba-backed AutoX launches driverless robotaxi services to the public

The startup intends to launch its robotaxi service in Shenzhen, Wuhan, and Wuhu in the near future.

Auto-X3 AutoX robotaxis. Photo provided to KrASIA

Chinese autonomous driving startup AutoX has opened its robotaxi services to the public in a designated part of Jiading district in Shanghai for free. Anyone within the area can now hail a driverless cab through Alibaba’s AutoNavi app, according to a press release from the company on Monday.

The announcement makes AutoX one of the few companies to provide publicly available robotaxi services in China, following WeRide, which launched its services in Guangzhou in November 2019 and Baidu, which offered its service in Changsha, capital of Central China’s Hunan province in April this year.

Prior to AutoX, which has Alibaba among its investors, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has also kicked off its robotaxi services in Shanghai on June 27, but the company demanded potential passengers to apply for a trial ride first via Didi app and got the ride once Didi verified their information.

Read more: Self-driving technology accessible to everyone is AutoX’s goal: Inside China’s Startups

With the launch of its pilot robotaxi service to the public, AutoX has also announced a strategic partnership with Letzgo, a major taxi fleet operations company headquartered in Shanghai on August 17, and is preparing to make its cars available through the company’s app. In addition, Letzgo, which operates over 16,000 vehicles in more than 18 cities across China, will also operate AutoX’s robotaxis. The autonomous driving firm has been allowed by Shanghai municipal authorities to run a fleet of 100 vehicles.

AutoX, which is currently also testing autonomous vehicles in Shenzhen, Wuhan, Wuhu, as well as several other cities around the world, intends to launch its robotaxi service in these cities in the following months, the company said in the press release.

Fosun RZ Capital, the venture capital unit of finance and health giant Fosun, predicted in a research report released last week that autonomous driving will play an instrumental role in reducing  human-to-human contact following the COVID-19 pandemic. The report added that autonomous driving technologies in China are maturing along with cooperation between companies and institutions.

“11 ministries, including the National Development and Reform Commission, have rolled out a strategy in February to boost development of intelligent cars, as one measure to make the country a strong power,” it said. “At the game time, it is much easier for Chinese domestic autonomous driving firms to gain plenty and varied opportunities to test their vehicles due to complicated road conditions in the country, compared with foreign peers.”