Self-driving vehicle startup Pony.ai has secured a permit in Guangzhou to operate 100 robotaxis as traditional taxis. The license, which allows Pony to charge for rides in its self-driving vehicles, represents another step on the road to commercializing self-driving vehicles in China.
WeRide, one of Pony’s competitors in China, organized a service in partnership with Guangzhou Baiyun government-supported taxi group since 2019, giving the company a forerunner advantage on the road to commercialization. However, this is they say first time in china deployed a taxi license dedicated to a fleet of autonomous VTCs, without the need to partner with a traditional taxi operator. The license also subjects Pony fleets to the same rules that govern traditional human-driven taxis.
“The inclusion of autonomous vehicles in the unified and standardized taxi management proves that government policy and the public are increasingly accepting robotaxis as a form of everyday transport, recognizing the driving experience and technical stability of the robotaxi of Pony.ai,” said Tiancheng Lou. , co-founder and chief technology officer of Pony.ai in a statement.
Pony, who last month announced an undisclosed raise that brought the company’s valuation to $8.5 billionwill start charging tariffs in Guangzhou’s Nansha District in May, an 800 square kilometer port area in the middle of the from the country Technology-driven Greater Bay Area. Passengers will be able to hail a ride and pay through the PonyPilot+ app between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., with fares based on “standard taxi fares in Guangzhou,” according to Pony.
The company hasn’t responded to requests for information on what kind 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 intends to retire the driver “in the short to intermediate time.” It’s a bold goal, as no municipal government in China has officially allowed driverless robotaxis to drive passengers. Even if Pony is able to remove the driver, it’s hard to imagine that such a service will be allowed to operate in Guangzhou’s bustling downtown in the short term.
Pony said he intended to gradually expand the scale and reach of his service to other areas of the city, but did not say when.
“To qualify for the license, Pony.ai had to pass rigorous safety tests and other multi-faceted vehicle qualification tests set by national inspection institutions, such as having at least 24 months of experience. [autonomous driving (AD)] testing in China and/or other countries, at least 1 million kilometers of test mileage, at least 200,000 kilometers of AD testing in the designated Guangzhou test area, and no involvement in at-fault traffic accidents active,” the company said in a statement.
In California, where Pony was testing its driverless capabilities, the company recently had to issue a reminder of its self-driving software following three crashes in October, which led the California Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the company’s operating license.
Guangzhou is not the first city in which Pony has charged for robotaxis. The company, along with Baidu’s self-driving service, received a license in Beijing last November to charge passengers in a small suburban pilot area.
Pony is also testing self-driving vehicles in Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as Fremont and Irvine in California. The company said it had completed more than 700,000 rides as of mid-April, although it’s likely most of those rides were in China.
If commercialization in Guangzhou and Beijing is successful, Pony intends to expand its commercialized robotaxi 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 clarification, or whether he applied for deployment permits in California.
The company intended to go public in New York through a SPAC merger last year, but those plans were would have put on hold after the company failed to get assurances from the Chinese government that it would not become the target of a crackdown on Chinese tech companies.