China’s capital city, Beijing, is paving the way for the growth of robotaxi businesses. The suburban district of Yizhuang has officially given local operators, primarily Baidu and Pony.ai, permission to charge fares for fully autonomous taxis, removing the need for human staff inside the vehicles. This move eliminates the cost of a driver and accelerates the development of driverless transportation. The Yizhuang district is located about half an hour’s drive from downtown Beijing and is home to major corporations such as JD.com.
Ning Zhang, the vice president at Pony.ai, expressed confidence in the future of fully driverless vehicles, stating that they could be running throughout the entire Beijing city in three years. The city has plans to expand robotaxi testing areas to include Daxing International Airport and a train station by the end of the year. Conversations with Beijing’s mayor have indicated strong support for the advancement of connected cars, artificial intelligence, and other advanced technologies.
Beijing has been gradually increasing the testing area for robotaxis, and in November 2021, it allowed operators to collect fares for public-facing rides. Currently, out of the more than 200 robotaxis operated by Pony.ai in the region, only about ten are fully driverless. The phased process of allowing public robotaxi operation includes factors such as the seating arrangement of the safety driver and whether the car is used for testing or commercial operation.
Pony.ai claims to have the best safety record in the world, with no fully driverless public-facing robotaxi accidents in China. Building a strong safety track record is crucial for obtaining further government permits for robotaxi operations, and Pony.ai emphasizes the stringent measures it takes to protect data privacy. The company aims to break even by 2025 and has a valuation of $8.5 billion.