Didi to become the latest to pilot real world self-driving test in China

Wei Junqing, a veteran from Aptive, will be the CTO of Didi’s new self-driving spinoff.

Photo: Provided to KrASIA by Didi

China’s largest ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing is poised to pilot its robotaxi service in Shanghai in early 2020. The company said it would launch 30 Level 4 self-driving cars in certain areas in the eastern coastal Chinese city.

Didi has received a permit from the Shanghai municipal government, which allows not just road tests but also non-commercialized use cases to ferry passengers or cargoes.

Out of the five autonomous driving levels, Level 4 autonomy means that the vehicle is highly automated. It could operate with no human intervention or even without a driver, but it’s limited to a certain geographical area or a certain speed.

Along with Didi, two leading automakers – SAIC Motor and BMW – also got the Intelligent Connected Vehicle (ICV) application demonstration permit, local officials announced Monday during the 2019 World Intelligent Connected Vehicles Conference held in the city.

Shanghai is probably one of the most forward-looking Chinese cities when it comes to giving autonomous vehicles a try, we reported before that the city is also working with AI startup AutoX in a similar robotaxi pilot.

The newly-issued permit also signals that China’s autonomous vehicles are driving out of the testing stage into the real world.

Didi, in an interview with Chinese tech media outlet 36Kr, said that it has poached the former global head of the auto-vehicle project at Aptiv, a US-based auto supplier and self-driving software company, as the new CTO of its recently-spun-off autonomous vehicles unit. Wei Junqing, the new CTO will report directly to CEO Zhang Bo, who also serves as Didi Chuxing’s CTO.

By piloting L4 cars in Shanghai, Didi is driving faster towards its vision of commercializing its robotaxi fleet, which might help the company in buffing up its profits prospect.

The move also comes at a time when the self-driving race is getting increasingly fierce in the country. One of the most valuable Chinese self-driving startups Pony.ai teamed up with Japanese automaker Toyota and has been testing its self-driving fleet since late last year in Guangzhou, China. Tech giant Baidu also began trails in Changsha, the capital of Central China’s Hunan province earlier in August.

36Kr is KrASIA’s parent company.