The idea of driverless cars roaming the streets is no longer a bizarre, far-fetched or unachievable experiment in a sci-fi movie. It’s now a reality that’s too close to real-world actualization. Over the last decade, so many resources have been invested into this field of technology and the world is reaping its first fruits.
In Beijing, China, people can now order a taxi that has no one behind the wheel, CNN Business reports.
Two Chinese companies Baidu Inc and autonomous driving startup Pony.ai announced last week that they had been granted the country’s first permit to operate robotaxi ride-hailing services. According to the companies, the permits allow their vehicles to drive without an operator behind the wheel, although there must be one in the front passenger seat to take control in case of emergencies. Customers can hail a taxi from an app of any of the two companies.
Each company has been designated 23 square miles range to operate from. The ride-hailing services introduced last week are currently running free rides as the operators gather more data on performance.
Autonomous driving has attracted giant players from the technology and automobile industries. There are more than 200 companies that have expressed interest in driverless technology, some at advanced stages of product development.
In the United States, Google’s driverless subsidiary Waymo has been testing its cars in San Francisco for some time.
China is among the countries with the highest number of companies running autonomous vehicles. AutoX, which has the backing of Alibaba has been running driverless robotaxis on public roads in the city of Shenzhen since 2020.
Pony.ai was founded by former Baidu engineers in Fremont, California. It has the attracted high-value investors including Toyota. The company said that up to 300,000 Beijing residents would participate in the ongoing experiment.