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Commercial market for automated carriages begins on Sichuan City’s Qingpu Street, joining world-first case last week
A self-driving taxi has made its first commercial run in China.
The Shanghai-based US-based ride-hailing company, Yidao Yongche, teamed up with two companies to launch the service on Sichuan City’s Qingpu Street – the world’s first legal case of automated carriages.
Jill Marker, of Beijing-based ride-hailing company Bolt, confirmed that “we drove a ride-sharing autonomous car on Qingpu Street on Thursday”, adding the car was “an 8-seater for customers to enjoy car ride sharing”.
Yidao, part of internet giant Baidu, is one of several big names in China, in competition with the majority of smartphone-based ride-hailing services who are operating semi-autonomous cars.
“Yidao Yongche will hire the vehicles on a trial basis using its own supply chain and employ the driving capabilities of its self-driving system,” the Shanghai Media Group quoted the company as saying.
On Friday, RideBabylon Co Ltd, a separate automated taxi service in China, also launched a limited service.
Jiang Caixiu, RideBabylon’s founder, said the autonomous carriages were not fully autonomous and that the technology was not yet ready for commercial use.
Jiang and several others at RideBabylon took turns in the steering wheel while the vehicles were being driven.
Jiang, who created the technology behind the self-driving technology, said: “But now is not the time to hit a ‘go’ button.”
“We are introducing a new technology and still need more refinement and commercialisation, so the technology is not yet reliable for standard human-driven cars.”
He insisted the research was not just about technology but also about the social impact and safety of the vehicles.
RideBabylon will start with just 15 vehicles in Sichuan and another 15 in Shanghai. It is expected to go live in 12 to 18 months and initially cover 2,000km (1,240 miles) of routes, with services dependent on road conditions.
A major player in China’s ride-hailing sector, Alibaba-backed Didi Chuxing, is already operational with its own fleet of autonomous cars.
This article was amended on 17 May 2016. An earlier version said the autonomous cars were part of Baidu. The company is part of the internet giant Baidu, but is focused more on AI and other self-driving technology.