Pony.ai Given Green Light to Carry Passengers in its Robotaxis in China
Autonomous driving startup Pony.ai, which was founded in Fremont, California with the goal of building the safest and most reliable autonomous driving technology, has been granted permission from local authorities in Beijing to pick up passengers in its robotaxis, Chinese news outlet Gasgoo reports.
The move to allow Pony.ai to carry passengers in its autonomous vehicles paves the way for other companies working on self-driving technology to expand their testing and deploy more driverless vehicles to carry passengers.
Although Pony.ai was granted permission to test its self-driving vehicles on public roads in China last year, it was not permitted to carry passengers until now.
According to the company's post on the Chinese social media platform WeChat, Pony.ai will test its robotaxi fleet on the designated routes in Beijing's Haidian District and Yizhuang in the southeast part of the city. Passengers will be able to hail a self-driving car and will be picked up and dropped off in designated areas for the tests.
Pony.ai has been testing its Robotaxi pilot service dubbed "PonyPilot" since late 2018 in Guangzhou, China. The company was the first to launch a robotaxi operation and offer self-driving car rides to the general public in China.
In November 2019, Pony.ai also became the first company to roll out a robotaxi pilot service in the U.S. in Irvine, California. The company partnered with automaker Hyundai Motor Co to build a self-driving system for Hyundai vehicles.
Pony.ai alos partnered with New York-based transportation startup Via with "BotRide'', an on-demand, autonomous taxi service operating on public roads in California. The BotRide service using Pony.ai's technology is currently underway in Irvine, California. The pilot serves hundreds of riders per day.
Pony.ai also partnered with the city of Fremont, California in February on an autonomous ride-hailing pilot for city employees. Fremont is best known as the home of Tesla's U.S. assembly factory.
China is actively moving to commercialize and become a world leader in autonomous driving technologies, advanced mobility and smart cities, partly to help alleviate urban traffic congestion, especially in the Chinese capital city of Beijing. The designated test areas for self-driving vehicles and related technology is rapidly growing in Beijing.
Beijing has designated 151 routes for autonomous vehicle tests so far, equalling a distance of about 503.68km (312 miles), Gasgoo reports. The 40-square-kilometer testing ground at Beijing Economic Technological Development Area allows companies to test self-driving vehicles and robotaxis.
According to a report released by Beijing Innovation Center for Mobility Intelligent (BICMI) on March 2, a total of 77 vehicles deployed by 13 companies have undergone the road tests of autonomous driving in Beijing from the beginning of 2018 to the end of 2019. The 13 companies drove a total of 1.04 million kilometers (621,371 miles).
Among the 13 companies, Pony.ai was the second highest in terms of the overall test mileage completed with a fleet of 7 vehicles driving 75,372 miles. Leading the testing was China's internet giant Baidu, with a fleet of 52 vehicles accumulating 893,900 km (555,443 miles).
In February, Pony.ai announced a $400 million investment from Japanese automaker Toyota. Pony.ai and Toyota plan to accelerate the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles. In addition to co-developing autonomous driving technology, Pony.ai and Toyota will look beyond self-driving vehicles and explore additional mobility services.
The latest investment from Toyota raises Pony.ai's valuation to just over $3 billion.
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