China Gives Daimler Green Light to Test Autonomous Cars in Beijing

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【Summary】While China is pushing automakers to switch gears to develop electrified cars that meet is strict regulations, the country has opened its doors to allow Daimler to test self-driving vehicles in Beijing.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Jul 13, 2018 9:15 AM PT
China Gives Daimler Green Light to Test Autonomous Cars in Beijing

China may be in the news because of its strict emissions regulations and the country's push towards electric vehicles, but the country has also become a hub for futuristic tech involving autonomous vehicles. 

Last month, Baidu and China Mobile announced a partnership to advance telecommunications for connected vehicles. At the time, the two companies stated that the collaboration would result in technology in artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, big data, voice recognition, natural language processing, and image recognition. Obviously, China doesn't want to get behind in the race to help self-driving cars hit the road. 

China usually keeps things close to its chest, only allowing companies from within the country to excel. When it comes to autonomous vehicles, China granted BMW permission to test its self-driving vehicles on public roads a few months ago. The German automaker received the "Shanghai Intelligent Connected Autonomous Driving Test License" and was one of the first foreign brands to receive it. 

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Foreign Automakers Continue To Expand To China

The list of foreign automakers that can test autonomous vehicles in China is growing by one, as Daimler recently received a permit that allows it to test its self-driving cars in the country. As outlined in a press release, Daimler will be testing its Level 4 vehicles on public roads in Beijing. The automaker states that it's the first international automaker to receive a road test license to put its autonomous vehicles through its paces in the city. 

Daimler claims that Beijing offers the company with "unique and complex urban traffic situations." 

To be able to test its vehicles in the city, Daimler had to climb through some hoops. The automaker demonstrated that its autonomous cars could operate adeptly at a proving ground. The testing was completed at the National Pilot Zone for Intelligent Mobility. There's not a lot of information on what the tests included. 

In order for Daimler's cars to pass the tests, the automaker received some "technical applications" from Baidu Apollo. The latter refers to Baidu's latest autonomous driving platform, which also includes an open-source dataset for autonomous driving tech. When Baidu unveiled the Apollo platform, the company stated that it was hoping it would become "the Android of the auto industry." 

While Level 4 autonomous vehicles are awfully close to being able to operate without a human driver, Daimler's vehicle will have human operators behind the wheel. And those test drivers, as the automaker claims, have received "rigorous automated driving training." 

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A Partnership With Daimler And Baidu Makes Sense

"Autonomous driving is a key pillar of our global C.A.S.E. strategy, and today's announcement marks a major step forward for our innovation efforts here in China," said Hubertus Troska, a member of the board of management of Daimler. "We demonstrate our commitment to further the development of China's automotive industry through continually expanding the scope of our local research and development. ‘Inspired by China, innovating for China,' we are dedicated to providing our customers here with technologies, products and services tailored to their needs." 

With some help from Baidu, Daimler will be using the testing as a way to research safer ways to come out with autonomous vehicles in China. Specifically, Daimler and Baidu are looking for ways to find safer solutions to automated driving via Baidu's open-source Apollo platform. The two are also looking into any special requirements that are required to bringing autonomous vehicles to the masses in China and to get a look at local technical trends. 

"Backed by strong local partners, our R&D in China results in concrete innovations that allow us to achieve sustainable development today and into the future," stated Dr. Hans Georg Engel, head of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development China. "This expanded research into automated driving will provide a strong base for developing further automated driving technology that addresses the challenges posed by China's unique traffic environment, in order to further ensure that our technology and products offer the safety and convenience our customers expect." 

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Why Daimler's Approval Is Important

As Automotive News points out, Chinese authorities have favored companies from China when it comes to testing driverless technology on public roads. The outlet points towards, Nio, Baidu, and SAIC as Chinese companies that have all received the necessary permits to test self-driving vehicles in the country. So, it doesn't sound like Daimler would have received the green light to test vehicles in the country if it weren't for the company's decision to utilize Baidu's Apollo platform. 

China isn't the first company to give Daimler a permit to test its self-driving cars. The automaker has received permits in Germany and the United States. For testing in America, Daimler received the necessary permits in California back in 2014 and spread to Nevada in 2016. 

While Daimler is working with Baidu on coming out with autonomous vehicles for China, the German brand announced a partnership with BAIC last July where it invested $735 million to come out with EVs for China. And it's not just electric cars the company is working on. Last month it unveiled an all-electric semi-truck that would be a rival to Tesla's upcoming semi. And we can't forget about Daimler's partnership with Bosch. With the automotive supplier, Daimler hopes to come out with Level 4 driverless taxis that could come out as soon as 2020. 

As a quick refresher, Level 4 autonomy refers to a driverless machine that can do the majority of driving tasks on its own, but only in specific conditions. Those conditions refer to geographic areas or road types. There are no Level 4 vehicles on the road today. 

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