Thousands of riders tested the autonomous vehicles from Uber and Baidu, with most saying they would trust their safety to robot cars
Self-driving robotaxis are on their way, with thousands of riders testing the autonomous vehicles from Uber and Chinese internet search engine Baidu.
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In a ride from the outskirts of Beijing, Reuters tracked down three of Baidu’s autonomous vehicles – one sedan, one SUV and a pick-up truck – at the Baidu lab where they were being developed. Each were parked on the factory floor, populated by engineers and test drivers.
The vans, the first of 10 assembled by the end of the year, will test out the drivers’ ability to intervene to stop the vehicles when needed.
One driver told Reuters the vehicle “behaved badly”.
“They made a double sign when I was leaving so they could see where I was going,” he said, using a tool on his phone to type while looking at a map.
Testing with humans
Traditional carmakers have yet to deploy fully autonomous vehicles, but have ploughed cash into developing similar technologies.
According to a Reuters’ tally, more than $1.1bn (£737m) has been spent by U.S. rivals Tesla, Ford, GM and Toyota on researching autonomous vehicles since 2014. Baidu says its expenditure for the research area has been at least one billion yuan (£129m).
For Chinese companies, there is one barrier to driving out the multinationals.
In a country where autonomous cars are deemed a stepping stone to their mass deployment, Chinese regulators are still working to determine who will be in charge of regulation.
After safety concerns that built up following a drunk driver’s death in California, China’s cabinet in January paved the way for the government to set rules governing driverless vehicles.
On 1 April the ministry of transportation said the industry would not only have to come up with the technology and industry standards, but also provide legislation – so that companies wouldn’t have to demonstrate that their vehicles do not need a human driver, but test them under real conditions.
New safety regulations need to be created not only to govern the testing, but also what happens if a driverless car is involved in an accident.
Shi Baikei, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who specializes in human-robot interaction, said it is now normal for humans to assume control for other drivers on the road, but after a robot begins guiding traffic, that attitude is likely to change.