Self-driving taxis to begin operations in Guangzhou, China, next month

A Chinese city that has been testing a self-driving taxi service appears to be expanding the program, adding an emphasis on full driverless mode. The expansion comes after local authorities gave a license to start-up firm Tmall, which this month began testing a fleet of five electric scooters and two other cars in the southern city of Guangzhou. While the automobiles were equipped with software to react to car-to-car traffic situations, they were also sent through traffic control to observe the actions of other vehicles and avoid accidents.

It’s the latest version of a program that already exists in the United States, Europe and Japan, but where the vehicles currently use a human “captain” to provide directions in the case of manual driving.

The Chinese companies working on the project are confident that the technology is there, and have also begun the process of licensing the cars so that they can be sold at the end of the trial run.

“There are so many factors that affect the successful operation of an electric vehicle,” Wang Jingyuan, Tmall’s senior general manager, said in a statement. “The new package comes to add another layer of support for the highly technical initiative.”

New data indicates that of the 239,000 passenger vehicles on public roads in Guangzhou, only 1 percent were electric in 2017. That number has since increased to 17 percent.

Tmall’s autonomous cars join a growing number of self-driving car trials currently taking place in Guangzhou, including the test of three autonomous buses, which reached a speed of 40 mph — the same speed at which the city’s rush-hour traffic is typically moving.

The city, famous for its southern beaches, is part of the Pearl River Delta, a region that stretches from Dongguan, south of Guangzhou, to Huizhou, on the coast. The region is home to the South China Sea’s largest man-made island, which includes the cities of Shenzhen and Wuxi. As the country’s economy has grown to rival that of the U.S., a booming infrastructure spending program has been a central part of the Asian country’s development. For example, the airport that serves southern Guangzhou was built in a year at a cost of $2.6 billion.

The Guangzhou test comes as the technology is increasingly likely to become a reality in China. Analysts predict that by the early 2030s, autonomous vehicles may be present in more than half of the country’s roads.

Read the full story at The Wall Street Journal.

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