For the first time, China's capital city has issued licences which allow self-driving vehicles to be tested on open roads.
The licences, which apply to designated areas of the city, were issued to Baidu, Inc. Baidu is generally seen as China’s version of Google and is a front runner in the global race to build self-driving cars.
Beijing’s move is a significant indication of China’s intention to support autonomous vehicles, with the decision coming in the wake of the world’s first fatal accident involving a self-driving car in the United States. Earlier this month, an Uber vehicle using autonomous technology struck and killed a passenger in Arizona.
“Baidu is committed to building a sustainable, innovative and open autonomous driving ecosystem. We hope to work with more partners to pave the way for the full development of autonomous driving, and to build a truly reliable and safe ecosystem for intelligent mobility,” said Mr Zhao Cheng, Vice President of Baidu in a statement.
“With supportive policies, we believe that Beijing will become a rising hub for the autonomous driving industry.”
According to the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, all vehicles that apply for the license must have completed 5,000 kilometers of closed course training in addition to capability evaluations, which include the ability to follow traffic rules and handle emergencies. Safety drivers are required to undergo no less than 50 hours of training in order to engage and take control of the vehicle in case of an emergency.
The vehicles also must pass evaluations by a group of transportation, automobile, computer science and legal experts before they are approved to run on open roads. There are currently 33 roads, spanning approximately 105 kilometers open for testing. These are primarily located in less-populated areas outside Beijing’s Fifth Ring Road, in Shunyi, Haidian and Yizhuang. Beijing’s traffic authorities have launched an enclosed testing site in Haidian for autonomous vehicles.
On 22 March, five cars powered by Apollo, the open autonomous driving platform by Baidu, were taken for a public road test with their new permits in Yizhuang, part of the Daxing district in the southeast suburbs of Beijing. Launched in July 2017, the Apollo platform has so far garnered over 90 partners, including OEMs, Tier-1 suppliers, research groups and local governments.
Last month, startup Pony.ai, which is founded by Baidu engineers, launched its own pilot autonomous ride-hailing headquarters, albeit limited to a 1.7-mile route near its Chinese headquarters in Nansha, in the southern province of Guangzhou.