On Friday, Beijing gave the green light for autonomous driving services to operate without in-car safety supervisors for the first time. This marks a significant milestone in China’s efforts to promote self-driving technology and take the lead in the global autonomous vehicle race.
The approval was granted to two fully driverless ride-hailing platforms, operated respectively by Chinese tech giant Baidu and autonomous vehicle startup Pony.ai, after a successful three-month pilot program on public roads. During the pilot program, the unmanned autonomous vehicles demonstrated their ability to navigate complex scenarios such as intersections, narrow roadways, and extreme weather conditions like rain, snow, and sandstorms.
Previously, safety supervisors were required to remain in the driver’s, passenger, or second-row seats during road tests and commercial operations. However, this new permit allows Baidu and Pony.ai to provide fully driverless rides without a safety supervisor aboard in a 60-square-kilometer area of the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area.
This development is a major step forward for China’s autonomous vehicle industry, which has been making significant strides in recent years. The approval of fully autonomous ride-hailing services without in-car safety supervisors will provide a major boost to the industry, as it allows residents in the approved area to summon a driverless car through mobile applications to travel to various destinations, such as subway stations, key commercial areas, public parks, and residential communities.
China is already home to some of the world’s largest and most valuable autonomous vehicle companies, including Baidu, Pony.ai, and WeRide. With this latest development, the country is likely to solidify its position as a global leader in the development and deployment of autonomous vehicle technology.