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Daily Digest | Computers on the road

Written by The Uptake Published on   2 mins read

Robotaxis are zipping around some of China’s open roads.

Hey there. It’s Brady again.

“Cars are becoming computers with wheels.”

That’s something that a mechanic I used to know said to me—around 12 years ago. He was referring to the way integrated circuits were being installed to limit the performance of cars that were rolling off production lines, like capping their top speed or defining how brakes can be applied. This development spawned a cottage industry of overriding chips to “unlock” the true potential of automobiles. As you can imagine, it was a dangerous thing to do.

Little did the speaker of those words know that, in 2021, they’d become even more true. Self-driving cars are already a reality (sort of). In China and the United States, they’re being tested on open roads in a limited fashion. In fact, Baidu Apollo has working robotaxis in four cities. Their routes are confined to areas without heavy, fast traffic, but the idea is to introduce the concept to people and gather data to train the navigation system for its autonomous vehicles.

The goal? To operate 3,000 robotaxis for 3 million users in 30 cities within the next three years.

It’s a lofty objective, and other companies have similar plans. Meanwhile, shifting regulations are restricting the ways cars can collect data. Chinese authorities believe information about maps and the positions of people could be sensitive from a security standpoint, so they are clamping down to define the extent to which auto companies and algorithm designers can mine this data. Will these developments decelerate the development of China’s autonomous cars?

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