August 19, 2022

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Shenzhen accelerates China's dreams of self-driving cars

Shenzhen accelerates China’s dreams of self-driving cars

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) – On a busy downtown street, three delivery bikes suddenly sped over the pedestrian crossing in front of the car. On the dashboard of the car, they look like little 3D blue blocks from a 90’s video game.

The steering wheel turns itself a little and the car slows to a stop gently, while the safety driver looks out from the passenger seat.

The vehicle is one of hundreds of sensor-loaded robotic vehicles belonging to DeepRoute.ai roaming the dense Futian commercial district in south China’s technology hub, Shenzhen, giving 50,000 test rides to passengers last year.

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While the United States is seen as an early leader in testing autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, the industry in Shenzhen appears to be shifting gears, with an experimental robot hub quickly becoming a familiar sight.

Baidu’s Apollo unit, Toyota Motor Corporation’s Pony, Nissan’s Wyrade, Alibaba’s AutoX and DeProt have experimented with cruising through the challenging city environment, with frequent hikers and e-scooters ubiquitous.

Shenzhen, with a population of 18 million, has introduced the clearest anti-vehicle regulations in China. From Monday, registered vehicles will be allowed to operate without a driver in the driver’s seat across a wide swath of the city, but the driver must remain present in the vehicle.

So far, Chinese cities have allowed robotics to operate on a more limited basis with the permission of local authorities, but Shenzhen’s regulations for the first time provide a critical liability framework in the event of an accident.

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If the AV has a driver behind the wheel, the driver will be liable for an accident. If the vehicle is completely driverless, the vehicle owner will be liable. If a defect causes an accident, the car owner can claim compensation from the manufacturer.

“If you want more cars, eventually there will be accidents, so these regulations are very important for mass deployment,” said Maxwell Chu, CEO of DeepRoute, speaking at the company’s offices in a technology park near the Hong Kong border.

“This is not a real driver but a great teacher.”

Motion vector

So far, the US has advanced in antipersonnel vehicle trials, with California giving the green light for public road tests as of 2014, allowing Alphabet Inc’s Waymo LLC, Cruise and Tesla to drive millions of miles in road tests.

But China is putting its foot on the accelerator, with Beijing making AV a key area in its latest five-year plan. Shenzhen wants the smart car industry to reach 200 billion yuan in revenue by 2025.

In May last year, Cruise CEO Dan Aman warned President Joe Biden that US safety regulations risked lagging the country’s antiviral vehicle industry from China, with a “central, top-down approach”.

Deeproute aims to have 1,000 robotaxis with safety drivers on Shenzhen roads in the next few years, as more detailed regulations are expected.

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But in a city that has a state-owned fleet of 22,000 Shenzhen-based BYD electric taxis, where a 20-kilometre (12-mile) journey costs about 60 yuan ($9), production costs for vehicles installed before the robotic one must come down. Zhou said commercially viable.

Deeproute and other robotaxi companies rely on mass production to cut costs and collect data. Deeproute sells its driving solutions to car manufacturers for around $3,000.

Zhou views Shenzhen’s DJI Technology Co. as a role model, as the company uses low hardware costs and integrated supply chains to make it the dominant player in commercial drones worldwide.

On July 21, Baidu announced a new AV vehicle with a detachable steering wheel that it will use in robot hubs next year, priced at 250,000 yuan per unit, nearly half the price of the previous generation.

“We are heading into a future where riding in robotic robots will be half the cost of riding in a taxi today,” Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, said at the Baidu World conference.

frogs in a well

Shenzhen’s supply chain and lower costs give it a significant production advantage over Silicon Valley, but the AV solutions maker doesn’t want to be restricted to one market.

“In Shenzhen, the cost of capital is a third of California, because we have the battery suppliers, we have the sensors, we have the most integration,” said the CEO and founder of Shenzhen-based Whale Dynamic.

“But the revenue is one-tenth of the state of California, so it might not be a luxury business to do,” he said.

Deeproute, Weride, and Pony.ai also have offices in Silicon Valley, with research, development and testing teams at both locations.

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“We don’t want to take ourselves into a well and fight with other frogs,” Zhang said. “We want to jump out of that well.”

(dollar = 6.7433 Chinese yuan)

(This story is being paraphrased to correct the spelling in paragraph 4 of the view (not the site))

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(David Kirton reports). Editing by Michael Perry

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.