Automakers and tech companies around the world are pushing for a driverless future. Grab, Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing company, also believes in that future.
In that light, Grab is in talks with Didi Chuxing, China’s ride-hailing giant, for partnerships in self-driving, Grab President Ming Maa told Chinese local news service 21jingji.
“After we merged with Uber’s Southeast Asia operations, I think we could have more energy to explore beyond ride-hailing services, for example, autonomous driving,” said Ming Maa, “I believe it’s just a matter of time for autonomous driving to implement and we pay close attention to companies in the domain, including China’s Baidu and America’s Drive.ai, both companies have made breakthroughs in self-driving technologies. We are in talks with Didi Chuxing for corporations in self-driving projects.”
Grab’s vision of the driverless future
In fact, this is not the first time for the Grab President to talk about autonomous driving. Earlier in January, Ming Maa told Nikkei Asian Review that the company wants to launch autonomous taxi on the roads “definitely earlier” than 2022.
In Grab’s driverless future, Singapore may play an important role as it may become the first country for the company to kick off its robo-taxi services, as per Ming Maa told 21jingji, Singapore is a highly organized city where city planning and regulations are both sophisticated, not to say the supportive government initiatives.
Grab plans to combine human driving with autonomous driving, because heavy rainfalls occur at any time in Singapore, posing challenges to autonomous driving vehicles, according to Ming Ma.
The company’s ambition in self-driving dates back to 2016, when it formed a partnership with NuTonomy, an MIT spinoff that is developing autonomous vehicles. The two companies have tested self-driving cars in Singapore. Besides, Grab invested last year in Silicon Valley’s autonomous vehicle startup Drive.ai, which counts Andrew Ng as a board member. Driver.ai plans to roll out a fleet of autonomous taxis in July.
Investors and key partners: Didi & Toyota
China’s Didi Chuxing became a Grab investor in July last year when Didi Chuxing pulled in US$2 billion in Grab together with SoftBank. The Beijing-based company opened a research lab in March in the U.S. which will focus on AI and self-driving vehicles. Last month, Didi Chuxing received permits to test autonomous driving cars with a safety driver in California.
Another Grab backer, Toyota, which is leading Grab’s ongoing financing round and will invest USD 1 billion in Grab, is also exploring opportunities in self-driving. The Japanese automaker has invested US$2.8 billion in a new Tokyo-based company which will develop software for self-driving cars. The company plans to test autonomous EV by 2020.
Editor: Jason Zheng