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Autonomous Vehicles

Most Advanced Urban Driver-Assist System in China Just Launched

XPeng is standing a notch above the rest when it comes to advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS). I recently went on an exclusive virtual drive in an XPeng vehicle using the company’s new City Navigation Guided Pilot suite for over an hour. The driver didn’t need to intervene once, and the car was super smooth and natural in all kinds of disruptive and challenging situations (like when a fisherman was suddenly standing in the car’s lane next to a concrete wall). Honestly, I wish I had XPeng’s City NGP to cover my commutes every day! (Tesla FSD has not been doing particularly well for me, and City NGP looks much smoother from my virtual live observation of it.) Of course, City NGP is not available in Florida. XPeng doesn’t even sell cars in the United States and is unlikely to start anytime soon. However, for some lucky drivers in China, the privilege is now an option.

Image courtesy of XPeng.

According to XPeng, it just launched a City NGP pilot program in the country. “A cohort of Guangzhou-based XPeng P5 customers can now access City NGP through over-the-air (‘OTA’) updates before launching to other cities, underscoring a key milestone of the Company’s world-leading autonomous driving technology,” XPeng says. Why just a cohort? It could be that XPeng’s only prepared to have the software operate in Guangzhou. It could be XPeng is trying to follow Tesla’s lead (as it has done before) and roll out high-end semi-autonomous features to owners in stages, to build buzz or something. I’m not sure why there’s a limited release or how limited the cohort is. But we’ll see how this introduction goes.

One thing that’s noted is that, for now, only XPeng P5 customers who have the premium version of the car will get City NGP. It will also come with the brand new XPeng G9 SUV that is going to be launched this week, September 21.

Image courtesy of XPeng.

The software itself rolls out in stages for XPeng owners who have access to it. The driver has to go 7 days and at least 100 km before City NGP will be available on all streets — or, well, all roads the vehicle will drive on (we’re not sure if there are certain roads or types of roads that City NGP will simply not touch — another question for a followup interview). In short, though, it’ll be at least a week until a customer can truly explore the limits of City NGP.

Aside from my virtual ride in an XPeng P5 using City NGP, which you can watch in the video directly below, you can also watch the CEO of XPeng go on an earlier ride with the tech in the video below that (let us know if you notice anything “funny” about the video!). I also wrote about that video since I found it interesting and impressive.

“With the rollout of City NGP, XPeng is spearheading a strategic roadmap to complete our ADAS coverage from highways and parking lots to much more complex city driving scenarios, offering our customers enhanced safety and an optimized driving experience,” said Mr. He Xiaopeng, Chairman and CEO of XPeng.

What can a car running XPeng City NGP actually do? Well, if you’re familiar with Tesla FSD Beta, it’s basically all the same features. Implementation of those features is what differs, and the unfortunate thing is that we can’t test them side by side in the same city, but I do recommend watching the top video above for a long drive through a busy city. XPeng states: “When City NGP is activated with a set destination, the vehicle itself can perform the full range of driving tasks such as cruising with a safe distance from leading vehicles, changing lanes due to navigation or vehicle overtaking decisions, handling merging/splitting roads, getting around stationary vehicles or obstacles, and maintaining an appropriate speed throughout the driving route. It can also automatically detect and react to traffic lights, make lane change decisions and inform drivers, take left or right turn and navigate through intersections, roundabouts, viaducts and tunnels, as well as avoid obstructions like construction, pedestrians, and cyclists.”

Notably, while the features are the same features you’d get with Tesla FSD Beta, the hardware that makes them possible is very different. Tesla is no longer using radar and never used lidar. XPeng uses both, and more. Tesla’s approach is vision, vision, vision. XPeng’s approach is much more multi-pronged, and then of course requires integrating the information feeds from these different sensors. Here’s XPeng’s statement on its hardware: “XPeng’s City NGP boasts the industry leading ADAS platform, featuring a multi-modality sensor fusion framework with cameras, LiDAR units, millimeter-wave radars, high-precision positioning units and other sensor hardware to offer a 360-degree fusion perception. Building on such advanced sensor fusion capability, XPeng also introduced an enhanced Surrounding Reality (SR) display, capable of visualizing a vehicle’s surrounding objects and projecting them in 3D, together with high-definition map information, on both the digital dashboard and central panel in real-time.”

I know that there’s plenty of debate about which hardware approach is best. I’ve been watching, covering, and from time to time expressing my own opinion about this hardware debate since 2015 or something. I definitely do not claim to have the answer. That said, I found Tesla Autopilot to be much smoother, more reliable, and more usable when it used radar, and my observations from my “ride” inside an XPeng P5 running City NGP were that it was really freakin’ good at smoothly driving itself around sometimes chaotic road environments. Cameras have problems with condensation, heavy rain, fog, mud, lovebugs, obscured views, and surely other things I’m forgetting now. Which approach will crack the nut of mass-scale cost-competitive robotaxis first? Don’t ask me. But if we’re talking about super advanced driver-assist suites for city drivers? Well, this new XPeng option is making my mouth water. It’s brain-tinglingly good.

When XPeng City NGP gets fully unleashed into the wild, we’ll see if any issues pop up.

 
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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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