LONDON–Self-driving robotaxis are taking off in China, where the ability to move around autonomously by kitting out a fully computerized van with driverless technology could revolutionize transport.
“The bottom line is self-driving cars will change the world and are the future,” said Li Jin, the 27-year-old manager of an autonomous driving firm in Shanghai.
Mr. Li and his employees created the concept of a fully automatic autonomous vehicle, which looks like a large compact vehicle in swivel mode, through years of research.
The company, Plus, has built over 20 fully computerized fleet buses that autonomously drive the 300 kilometers (186 miles) between Shanghai and the airport.
Proving the concept to its buyers, Mr. Li started his own venture venture company to replicate the model he created at plus-cost.
For over $2 million, customers can purchase a Plus droid that can navigate across three lanes of traffic.
China’s government wants to reduce traffic deaths and increase the country’s economy and productivity by designing self-driving car technology.
Despite heavy criticism in the West for massive spying and patent claims, China is hungry for Western patents.
“Apple is doing it,” said Mi Xiao, who works at one of China’s biggest technology companies, Lenovo. “It’s nothing but competition between the big companies. [Apple is] probably coming to us for self-driving car research,” Mr. Mi said.
Global automakers, including Tesla and Audi, have all started exploring the potential of autonomous car technology in recent years, and are particularly interested in developing self-driving cars for the Chinese market.
Right now, only one serious player is willing to sell the tech in China.
“Daimler has already announced their plans to roll out partially autonomous cars in 2019 in Europe and China. General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz will do it in 2022. Volvo Cars will offer it in 2019 in China and 2020 in Europe. At present, they cannot bring it to China,” said Zeng Feng, the technology reporter at Global Times.