Autonomous vehicle startup Pony.ai has been granted a permit in Guangzhou to operate 100 robotic axes as traditional taxis. The license, which enables Pony to charge for rides in its autonomous vehicles, marks another step towards the commercialization of autonomous ride-hail vehicles in China.
WeRide, one of Pony’s competitors in China, has partnered with Guangzhou government-backed taxi group Baiyun since 2019, which has given the company an early mover advantage on the path to commercialization. However, this is said to be the first time China has rolled out a taxi license intended for an autonomous ride-hail fleet, without the need to partner with a traditional taxi operator. The license also subjects Pony’s fleets to the same rules that apply to traditional human-operated cabs.
“The inclusion of autonomous vehicles in the unified and standardized management of taxis proves that both government policy and the public are increasingly accepting robot taxis as a form of everyday transportation, recognizing the driving experience and technical stability of Pony.ai’s robotic axis,” said Tiancheng Lou. , co-founder and chief technology officer of Pony.ai in a statement.
Pony, which announced an undisclosed hike last month that took the company’s valuation to $8.5 billion, will begin levying tariffs in May in Guangzhou’s Nansha district, an 800-square-kilometer port area in the midst of the country’s technology-driven Greater Bay Area. † Passengers can book a ride and pay via the PonyPilot+ app between 8:30 AM and 10:30 PM, with fares based on “standard Guangzhou taxi fares,” Pony said.
The company did not respond to requests for information about what type of vehicles will be included in its fleet, but photos Pony shared with TechCrunch show a Lexus equipped with Pony’s sensor suite.
Each ride will initially have a human safety driver in the front seat, although Pony has said it will remove the driver “over a short to medium time span”. This is a bold goal, as no city government in China has officially allowed unmanned robotaxis to drive passengers around. Even if Pony can remove the driver, it’s hard to imagine that such a service will operate in the busy center of Guangzhou any time soon.
Pony said it plans to gradually expand the scale and scope of its service to other parts of the city, but did not specify when.
“To qualify for the license, Pony.ai had to pass rigorous safety and other multifaceted vehicle qualification tests set forth by national inspection bodies, such as having at least 24 months [autonomous driving (AD)] testing in China and/or other countries, at least 1 million kilometers of test kilometers, at least 200,000 kilometers of AD testing within the designated test area of Guangzhou, and no involvement in active liability road accidents,” the company said in a statement.
In California, where Pony was testing its driverless capabilities, the company recently had to recall its autonomous driving software after a crash in October, prompting the California Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the company’s driverless license.
Guangzhou is not the first city to charge Pony for robotaxis. The company, along with Baidu’s autonomous driving service, obtained a permit in Beijing last November to charge passengers in a small suburban pilot zone.
Pony is also testing autonomous vehicles in Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as Fremont and Irvine in California. The company said it made more than 700,000 rides by mid-April, though it’s likely most of those rides took place in China.
If commercialization in Guangzhou and Beijing is successful, Pony plans to expand its commercialized robotic axi footprint to two other major Chinese cities next year, with further expansion planned for 2024 and 2025, the company said. Pony did not respond to requests for further clarification, or that it has applied for California placement permits.
The company planned to move to New York through a SPAC merger last year, but those plans were reportedly shelved after the company failed to obtain assurances from the Chinese government that it would not become a target. of a crackdown on Chinese technology companies.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that a software error caused three crashes. There was one collision. The defect was found in three vehicles from Pony.ai.
This post Pony.ai obtains taxi permit for autonomous vehicles in Guangzhou – TechCrunch was original published at “https://techcrunch.com/2022/04/25/pony-ai-scores-taxi-license-for-autonomous-vehicles-in-guangzhou/”