Autonomous Driving Developer AutoX Expanding its Robotaxi Testing to 4 New Cities in China
Chinese autonomous driving startup AutoX, said it is getting ready to expand in four more cities and will soon test its robotaxi technology with the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the same vehicle used by Alphabet's self-driving arm Waymo, reports Reuters.
AutoX is also in talks with prospective investors to fund the expansion and development of its autonomous fleet of robotaxis, Chief Executive Xiao Jianxiong said, without providing further details.
The company has already received autonomous driving permits in Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. It now plans to expand its robotaxi fleet in Beijing, western Chongqing and two other cities, Xiao said.
"Chongqing brings new challenges as a hilly city," Xi ao said in an interview. AutoX will also soon start testing vehicles in China with no safety driver in the front seat, he said.
In 2019, AutoX announced a partnership with the City of Shanghai to launch 100 robotaxi vehicles in the largest pilot in China.
Earlier this year, AutoX entered a partnership agreement with Pengcheng Taxi, the largest taxi company in Shenzhen, to collaborate on robotaxi operations at scale. AutoX says it was the first autonomous driving developer in China to successfully navigate through busy downtown traffic in the city of Shenzhen from any point to point.
The AutoX ride-hailing service is simply called "Robotaxi."
AutoX was founded in 2016 in Silicon Valley by Xiao Jianxiong, a former Princeton University assistant professor and specialist in computer vision and robotics. Xiao also serves as the company's CEO. He launched the company with a goal of "democratizing autonomy" by making it readily available as part of people's everyday lives. The company's U.S. headquarters are in San Jose, California.
The company is backed by China's Alibaba Group. As part of its service in China, AutoX customers can hail a ride directly from Alibaba's AutoNavi navigation app, which is one of the most popular navigation services in China.
AutoX is also backed by Chinese automaker Dongfeng Motor Group, one of China's "big-three" car companies.
For the past two years, AutoX has also been testing its autonomous vehicles on public roads in the U.S., including launching an autonomous grocery delivery pilot near its headquarters in San Jose, California in 2018.
The company developed a full-stack Level 4 autonomous driving system it calls the "AI Driver", which integrates all of the software and hardware components. The SAE Level-4 system is designed to operate without human intervention. The onboard vehicle hardware includes solid-state lidar, high-definition cameras and a CPU, which acts as the brain of the system. The full-stack AI Driver is also designed to be compatible with different types of vehicles.
The AutoX autonomous vehicles are also "connected" and supported by Shanghai's ultra-fast 5G-powered vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology, which enables each vehicle to communicate with roadside units (RSUs) and traffic signals.
Last December, AutoX was one of a handful of companies granted a permit in California to test its driverless vehicles on public roads without a driver in the vehicle.
Other permit holders include Waymo, which spun out of Google's self-driving car project, and Nuro, a startup testing its unmanned compact autonomous delivery vehicles for groceries and other last-mile deliveries.
As the world's biggest auto market, Chinese regulators are actively moving to rapidly commercialize autonomous driving and connected vehicle technology to help alleviate China's urban traffic congestion.
AutoX is already faced with growing competition in China including from internet search giant Baidu Inc., which recently expanded its "Apollo Go" robotaxi service, and Didi Chuxing, which operates China's largest ride-hailing platform with 800 million monthly active users. Didi is expected to soon launch its own robotaxi service in the near future.
Other AutoX competitors include Pony.ai, which was also founded in Silicon Valley. The company is backed by a $400 million investment from Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. In May, Pony.ai was also granted permission from authorities in Beijing to pick up passengers in its self-driving robotaxis.
AutoX also holds a separate permit in California to test its self-driving vehicles with safety drivers behind the wheel, joining around 60 tech companies and automakers, including BMW, Nvidia, Ford Motor Co. and Tesla that were granted the permit over the past four years from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.
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