Toyota-backed Autonomous Driving Developer Pony.ai Gets its Driverless Test Permit Suspended in California After Minor Accident
【Summary】After a minor accident involving one of Pony.ai's autonomous test vehicles in California, the state has stepped in and suspended the company's deployment permit while it conducts an investigation to find out what happened. It’s the first time that the California DMV suspended an autonomous driving test permit after issuing over 50 of them to companies working on self-driving vehicles in the state.
Silicon Valley in California remains a hotbed for the testing of autonomous driving technology, but the state requires that each company wanting to test their self-driving vehicles on public roads first apply for a permit through its Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to deploy them. The state's DMV is tasked with oversight over their safe operation.
As of now, there are only around 50 companies with the permit to test their self-driving vehicles on public roads in California, but so far only 8 of those companies were granted a permit to test their self-driving vehicles without a safety driver on board.
One of those companies was autonomous driving developer Pony.ai. But after a minor accident involving one of its autonomous test vehicles, the state has stepped in and suspended its permit while it conducts an investigation as to what happened.
It's the first time that the state has suspended an autonomous driving test permit.
The accident involving a Pony.ai vehicle occured in late October, but its only been brought to light this week.
On Oct. 28, a Pony.ai vehicle operating in autonomous mode hit a road center divider and a traffic sign in the city of Fremont after attempting to make a right turn, according to an accident report Pony.ai filed with the California DMV.
"There were no injuries and no other vehicles involved," Pony.ai wrote in its report.
Although the accident was minor, its still not clear what prompted the suspension.
"On Nov. 19, the DMV notified Pony.ai that the department is suspending its driverless testing permit, effective immediately, following a reported solo collision in Fremont, California, on Oct. 28," the DMV said in a statement to Reuters.
The regulator said Pony.ai has 10 Hyundai and Kona brand electric vehicles registered under its driverless testing permit, and that the suspension does not impact Pony.ai's permit for testing with a safety driver behind the wheel.
The suspension comes only six months after Pony.ai became the eighth company to receive a driverless testing permit in California, along with Waymo, GM-backed autonomous driving developer Cruise and compact autonomous delivery vehicle startup Nuro.
"We immediately launched an investigation, and are in contact with the California DMV about the incident," a Pony.ai spokesman said to Reuters. Safety is the "foundation" of the company's autonomous vehicle technology, the spokesman said.
Pony.ai said the majority of its autonomous driving testing has involved safety drivers, as is the case with more other companies testing their vehicle on public roads in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pony.ai's safety driver testing will continue as usual.
The town of Fremont, CA where the accident occurred was one of the first Bay Area cities to launch a robotaxi pilot in Feb 2020. For the pilot, Fremont and Pony.ai offered a group of city employees access to the company's robotaxi service.
The city employees that participated in the pilot were able to hail a ride in a self-driving Pony.ai vehicle. The fixed route was between Fremont's busy Amtrak/ACE train station to Fremont City Hall and to the Fremont Development Services Center. The trip is roughly 2 miles each way.
Each Pony.ai autonomous test vehicle is outfitted with a full-stack of autonomous driving technology, including a rooftop full of lidar, radar and cameras so the vehicle is fully aware of its surroundings. Pony.ai's vehicles are capable of navigating through city traffic, obeying all traffic laws, including yielding to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Pony.ai is one of the most valuable autonomous driving startups. In 2020, Pony.ai announced a $400 million investment from Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. to expand its collaboration with the automaker on self-driving cars.
Pony.ai completed a Series C funding round of $367 million in February, which valued the startup at roughly $5.3 billion.
Pony.ai has been testing its Robotaxi pilot service it calls "PonyPilot" since late 2018 in Silicon Valley and also in Guangzhou, China.
In May 2020, Pony.ai was granted permission from local authorities in Beijing to pick up passengers in its robotaxis. The move paved the way for other companies working on self-driving technology to expand their testing and deploy more driverless vehicles to carry passengers.
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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