SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing plans to start using self-driving vehicles to pick up passengers in a district of Shanghai city in a pilot scheme, a senior executive said, taking a further step toward commercializing self-driving technology.
The service will allow customers who hail a vehicle in the city’s Jiading district via Didi’s app to choose to be picked up by the self-driving vehicles, the firm’s Chief Technology Officer Zhang Bo said at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference on Friday.
The cars will still be staffed with a human driver, he said, adding that over 30 different types of car models will be offered in the pilot service, all equipped with so-called Level-4 autonomous driving capabilities. The trip distance can exceed 10 kilometers (6.21 miles).
He did not provide details on when Didi plans to start the pilot scheme or how large the fleet will be, but said the firm won permits from the Shanghai government to test its self-driving fleet on Wednesday.
Didi earlier this month said it spun-off its autonomous driving unit into an independent company which will focus on research and look to deepen collaboration with automakers, with Zhang as its CEO.
Tech giants such as China’s Baidu Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Waymo as well as traditional carmakers have been racing to put full commercial self-driving vehicles on the road. However, some have stumbled due to the difficulty and expense of developing self-driving cars capable of anticipating and responding to humans in urban areas.
In December, Waymo began charging passengers to use its driverless vehicles in a roughly 160 km zone in four U.S. suburbs, putting it ahead of U.S. rivals.
Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Christopher Cushing