China is surging into the lead globally on every aspect of electric vehicles, battery production, autonomous cars, and solar power. The latest push involves autonomous cars and mobility services, a market that is projected to be worth $500 billion a year in China alone by 2030, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
The Chinese Players
The number of Chinese companies pursuing autonomous driving technology is long and getting longer. Tencent, the internet giant that has a stake in Tesla, is the latest to receive permission to test its autonomous cars. The license is the first granted by the Transport Committee and Public Security and Traffic Police Bureau of Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city where Tencent has its home offices. The tests are expected to move the company’s self driving car initiative from the technical stage to the application stage, according to Su Kuifeng, director of its autonomous driving laboratory.
Just a month ago, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced new regulations that give more power to local authorities to approve testing of smart internet-connected cars. Local officials can now select areas for autonomous car testing and issue license plates, provided they file reports with MIIT every six months. Last month, Tencent joined a new partnership that is focused on developing internet-connected cars with FAW Group. It is the sixth auto manufacturer to join the alliance, which already included Changan, GAC Group, Geely, BYD, and Dongfeng Liuzhou.
Beijing was the first city to grant autonomous testing licenses. In March, it approved applications from Nio Motors and SAIC. Alibaba and Baidu, known collectively as BAT, are also pursuing self-driving systems. Alibaba plans to hire 50 AI specialists for its research team. In addition to its association with Baidu, it is also working with SAIC, China’s largest car manufacturer on internet-connected technology. Baidu brought a test vehicle to CES 2018 in Las Vegas in January. It intends to begin testing in the US shortly.
Later this year, the AliOS self-driving system will be incorporated into a crossover vehicle branded the Citroen C4, which will be built by Dongfeng Peugot Citroen Automobile Company. The car will be among the first to respond to voice commands to control the climate system, turn the wipers on (Tesla already does this autonomously), and perform other routine functions. The system also offers augmented reality navigation and route planning.
Hao Fei is the CEO of Banma, a joint venture between Alibaba and SAIC. (You need a program to keep track of the players in the Chinese auto manufacturing sector.) Speaking to the press at the Beijing auto show last month, he had some thoughts on autonomous driving systems. “Projecting a bunch of apps onto cars is not the internet-connected solution for the future,” he said. “A smart car needs a bottom-up operating system, linking from the controller area network to cloud-based data.” That is the holy grail that all these companies are pursuing.
BMW First Foreign Company To Obtain A Testing License
BMW is the first foreign automaker to obtain a license to test its autonomous car technology in China. On May 14th, it obtained a license from the Intelligent Connected Vehicle Road Test Promotion Team, which is composed of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Economy and Information, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau, and the Shanghai Municipal Transportation Commission.
The company has more than 60 engineers dedicated to its Level 4 autonomous driving program in China. According to a company press release, it will begin with two 7 Series sedans and expand that to seven cars by the end of this year. The team will gather several petabytes of data based on actual traffic experience. That data will be used to train machine learning algorithms in the complex tasks required to perform Level 4 autonomous driving successfully.
Initially, the test loop in Shanghai will be 5.6 kilometers long, but is expected to grow quickly. So far, BMW has accumulated 30,000 kilometers of autonomous driving in China and another 200,000 kilometers in computer simulations. “It is a great honor to be the first international vehicle manufacturer to obtain an autonomous road test license in China. With the highest safety standards, we will rigorously promote the local development of Autonomous Driving and strive to achieve a safer, more efficient and more convenient transportation system,” says Martin Sautter, senior vice president of the BMW R&D Center in China.
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