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Chinese city to permit road tests of autonomous taxis

Guangzhou is expected to be the first Chinese city to give nod to road tests of Web-based, autonomous taxis, as a number of big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have conditionally lifted restrictions on road tests of autonomous vehicles.

Guangzhou, the capital city of southern China's Guangdong province, has recently unveiled a document, which will allow companies to hire adult volunteers for road tests of autonomous taxis.

Domestic and foreign ride-hailing companies such as Didi Chuxing and Uber have placed high priority on the development of shared, self-driving taxis, which they believe could one day completely displace private cars driven by humans.

Since the end of last year, amid a growing demand for self-driving technology developers, some Chinese cities have rolled out specific rules allowing companies registered in China to apply for government permission to test autonomous cars on designated and isolated areas. But this time, Guangzhou will adopt a hierarchical management method, entitling companies to choose where they want to test autonomous cars on the basis of how mature their self-driving technologies are. It opens a possibility that road tests of autonomous cars could be conducted in downtown Guangzhou.

Self-driving technologies are divided by the Society of Automotive Engineers into six levels, with the Level 5 autonomy being the highest level enabling a car to run fully independently without any human intervention. Currently, most of the automakers and related technology companies are zooming in on the development of the Level 4-driven autonomous cars.

Moreover, Guangzhou is mulling a plan to allow companies to conduct road tests of autonomous cars without human monitors, who are now needed to oversee the tests in case of emergencies.

In order to attract more companies to conduct road tests of autonomous cars in Guangzhou, the document says that the application procedures will be simplified if the applicants have conducted similar road tests in other cities.

The Guangzhou policy seems a good news to the domestic taxi-hailing leader Didi, which is planning to establish a comprehensive platform where automakers can market the sharing services of their driverless cars. The company has envisioned a future when people do not need any private cars and instead just rent Internet-based taxis which can free up their hands.

In addition, the Guangzhou document also leaves space for foreign players. A person involved with the drafting of the document told Caixin that Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project, will be given priority and simplified application procedures if it conducts road tests in Guangzhou.

According to a latest survey by market research firm Ipsos, countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America hold a more open attitude toward self-driving technology than Western countries, with autonomous driving technology being most acceptable among Chinese and Indians.

Western countries' indifference to self-driving technology is caused by a series of fatal self-driving taxi crashes in the recent months, showed the survey.

In May, a self-driving car operated by American taxi-hailing company Uber struck and killed a woman during a road test in Tempe, Arizona, the first pedestrian death caused by self-driving technology. The death caused an immediate suspension of the company's autonomous car tests in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.


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