Robotaxi Startup AutoX is Now Picking Up Passengers in its Autonomous Vehicles Without Safety Drivers
【Summary】Autonomous driving developer AutoX has launched its robotaxi service in China and the vehicles will be entirely driverless with no safety driver onboard, the company announced on Thursday. AutoX is one of the first companies to operate its ride-hailing fleet on public roads without drivers onboard. The AutoX fleet is made up of modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
Autonomous driving developer AutoX has launched its commercial robotaxi service in China and the vehicles will be entirely driverless with no safety driver onboard, the company announced on Thursday. AutoX is one of the first companies to operate its ride-hailing fleet on public roads without drivers onboard.
The AutoX fleet is made up of modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans, the same model that Alphabet's autonomous driving division Waymo is using in the U.S. the service. The service launched with a fleet of 25 driverless vehicles in Shenzhen and five in other cities in China.
The AutoX service is simply called "Robotaxi."
AutoX developed a full-stack Level 4 autonomous driving system it calls the "AI Driver", which integrates all of the software and hardware components. The company's autonomous driving system is designed to operate without human intervention. AutoX said it was the first autonomous driving developer in China to successfully navigate the downtown traffic in the mega-city of Shenzhen from any point to any point.
The vehicle hardware includes solid-state lidar, high-definition cameras and a CPU, which acts as the brain of the system. The full-stack AI Driver is also designed to be compatible with different types of vehicles.
The AutoX autonomous vehicles are also "connected" and supported by China's expanding ultra-fast 5G-powered vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology, which enables each vehicle to communicate with roadside units (RSUs) and traffic signals.
AutoX plans to test its technology with a variety of production vehicles in multiple cities in China in order to improve its technology to handle most of the driving scenarios its self-driving vehicles will encounter. The company was granted autonomous driving permits in Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
As the world's biggest auto market, regulators in China are moving to commercialize autonomous driving and other connected vehicle technology to help alleviate China's worsening urban traffic congestion.
AutoX plans to scale its robotaxi service to multiple cities in China.
AutoX was founded in 2016 in Silicon Valley by Xiao Jianxiong, a former Princeton University assistant professor. Xiao also serves as the company's CEO. He launched the company with a goal of "democratizing autonomy" by making it readily available as part of people's everyday lives. The company's U.S. headquarters are in San Jose, California.
In July, AutoX became the second company after Waymo to test a passenger vehicle on California's public roads without a safety driver onboard. AutoX applied for the permit last December. Waymo is considered to be a leader in autonomous driving. The company spun out of Google's self-drving car project.
China tech giant Baidu is also testing robotaxis in China without drivers onboard as part of its planned Apollo Go robotaxi service. However Baidu is relying on a team of remote operators that are able to take control of the vehicle remotely over a 5G connection. The technology is known as "teleoperations" and it provides an extra layer of safety if the vehicle's software cannot handle an unexpected situation.
AutoX however does not fully trust the current 5G technology as a fail-safe backup for its autonomous vehicles.
"We think with current communications infrastructure, remote control brings safety issues as 5G signals are not stable yet and hackers might attack the vehicles," AutoX Chief Executive Xiao Jianxiong told Reuters.
AutoX is backed by Chinese automakers Dongfeng Motor Group Co Ltd and SAIC Motor Corp Ltd. Dongfeng Motor Group is one of China's "big-three" automakers.
China is emerging as a hotbed of autonomous vehicle testing. In addition to AutoX and Baidu, Toyota-backed startup Pony.ai and transportation provider Didi Chuxing are also testing self-driving vehicles, although Pony.ai and Didi have safety drivers in their vehicles.
In Aug 2019, AutoX signed a partnership with the City of Shanghai to jointly launch the first commercial robotaxi fleet in China. The testing began in April and launched in August. It's the first time an autonomous ride-hailing service was made available on a major ride-hailing platform in China, according to the company. Customers can book a ride using AutoNavi, a popular mapping and transportation-booking app in China.
Earlier this month, Chief Executive Xiao Jianxiong said AutoX was in talks with prospective investors to fund the expansion and development of its autonomous fleet of robotaxis, without providing further details.
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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