Robotaxi accelerates China's driverless car dreams

STORY: This robo-taxi is navigating jaywalkers and traffic in the Chinese city of Shenzen, while its safety driver looks on from the passenger seat.

New rules mean a hundred self-driving vehicles can legally hit the roads – including ‘robotaxis.’

It’s a step that’s accelerating China’s driverless dreams with eyes ahead toward the U.S.

Shenzhen is China’s tech hub, a city of 18 million people and new rules will let registered autonomous vehicles operate so long as a ‘safety driver’ is present.

The CEO of local startup DeepRoute.ai - Maxwell Zhou - is excited about the changes.

[Maxwell Zhou, Chief Executive Officer / DeepRoute.ai]

"It definitely has a significant impact on the automotive industries. As in first, so we have a much wider area, so we can do the robotaxi, and we can do the autonomous driving testing operation. So this allow us to get in more and more datas and we can evidence our algorithm much faster."

Zhou says with more cars – come more accidents. So the new rules are key.

That is..

1. If an AV has a driver behind the wheel, the driver will be liable in an accident.

2. If the car is completely driverless, the owner of the vehicle will be responsible, unless the vehicle is defective.

The U.S. took an early lead in the AV race… California greenlit road tests back in 2014, and Waymo, Cruise and Tesla racked up millions of road test miles.

But China has hit the accelerator, and says it’s a key part of its latest five year plan.

Already trial robotaxis are a common sight on Shenzhen’s streets, and passengers rode DeepRoute’s AV cabs 50,000 times in the last year.

Shenzhen’s supply chain and lower cost versus Silicon Valley also help.

However David Chang, founder of another startup – Whale Dynamic – says Shenzhen is only the beginning.

[David Chang, Chief Executive Officer / Whale Dynamic]

"In Shenzhen, the price is one-third to the U.S. but the revenue is one-twelfths to the California, so that may not be a fancy business to do".

"As a company with international vision, we don't want to shrink ourself into a well and fight with other frogs. I don't want to shrink into that well. We want to jump out the well."

Shenzhen wants its smart vehicle industry to reach revenues of $29 billion dollars by 2025.

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