Shanghai launches self-driving taxi service

Didi Chuxing disrupting taxi industry

Americans are not the only ones working on autonomous vehicles . For the past few days, Shanghai residents have seen curious vehicles plying their streets. Ride-hailing giant DiDi Chuxing (the Asian equivalent of Uber and Lyft) just launched the trial run of IA based self-driving ride service.

Shanghai residents can now use the Didi app on their smartphone to order a self-driving taxi, in a few clicks.

Are these autonomous taxis reliable?

The debate between the reliability of human drivers and autonomous vehicles is quite old, but because of the lack of real commercial offer, the question has remained very theoretical in Europe and in the United States.

Despite the number of Californian, Japanese or European startups that already have tested AI based vehicles on the roads, DiDi Chuxing is the first company to move this technology from the field of R&D to commercial exploitation.

“AI in transportation will no doubt revolutionize safety and efficiency of the urban transit system,”

Cheng Wei, CEO of DiDi Chuxing

In these so-called “level 4” fully autonomous taxis, all of the driving is provided by an on-board AI. The operator who sits in the driver’s seat has the sole task of acting in an emergency.

Towards large-scale deployment

The company geofenced the trials on driverless cars to downtown Shanghai, but is making a commitment to the future of transport across the country. The vision is that such innovation becomes mainstream.

The presence of a human agent in the vehicule is a precautionary measure which is intended to be temporary. As soon as autonomous taxis have proven their ability to travel safely, the driving seat will be removed to get a fully automated vehicle.

Vehicules will then be remotely controlled thanks to a “control center” where each employee can monitor dozens of vehicles. According to Cheng Wei, founder and CEO of DiDi, the company already opened a first control center in June 2020. Employees are responsible for monitoring the condition of roads, traffic and providing assistance in case of accident or breakdown.

In 2018, Didi launched “D Alliance,” a ride-sharing corporate partnership that includes Toyota Motor and Volkswagen. Didi hopes the alliance with accelerate the development of self-driving vehicles. 

In addition to the trial in Shanghai, Didi is developing automated driving technology in Beijing, Suzhou City in Jiangsu Province, and in the U.S. state of California.

A disruptive trend that will transform the auto industry ?

With the proliferation of deployments and the end of R&D cycles, we know a little more about how the autonomous transportation value chain will be organized.

Thanks to a grouped surveillance strategy, autonomous vehicules companies will break away from the old paradigm of “one driver for one client”  and will allow operators to finally succeed and reach profitability.

Once technological and regulatory issues have been resolved, up to 15 percent of new cars sold in 2030 could be fully autonomous.

A progressive scenario would see fully autonomous cars accounting for up to 15 percent of passenger vehicles sold worldwide in 2030.

Credit: McKinsey&Company

Conclusion

The benefits of self-driving vehicles are huge: significant reduction of road accidents, deaths and injuries. From a business perspective, this AI based technology will cut driver’s job and labor costs. However, the challenge that many companies is facing is the public perception of autonomous vehicles after Uber’s and Tesla’s self-driving car fatalities. It is therefore very important to educate communities on how this technology can actually make roads safer in the long-term.

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