China to trial self-driving taxis by 2020

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Google cars began piloting autonomous vehicles without human intervention around 2010

Self-driving cabs are set to be tested in major Chinese cities within the next year, according to state media.

Since October, the Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Hubei have been running tests with 30 taxis which have gone off-road only twice.

The technology has gained popularity in the US where a number of local companies, including Uber, are trying it out.

The Chinese government has been developing its own self-driving vehicle strategy.

Three companies are now testing self-driving vehicles – BYD, Chery and Silicon Dragon.

They will soon be joined by a national consortium formed by five big names in the automotive industry, including Ford, Audi, Wuling and SAFRAN.

“I feel safer, faster, more autonomous … Our motorways will be safer, the nation’s road may become even safer,” state-owned Xinhua quoted one Chery taxi driver as saying.

These “first-generation” autonomous vehicles use sensor systems and cameras to learn driving behaviour, avoiding accidents such as human error, but will not be allowed to drive themselves without “autonomous navigation” from another vehicle, such as a bus.

They will be able to drive inside cities on highways before learning how to navigate country roads, Xinhua added.

The tech giant Baidu is involved in an ambitious AI research project to build fully autonomous vehicles by 2030 and make the technology widely available.

Image copyright AFP Image caption A researcher from the Chinese Academy of Engineering pictured playing with a driverless car’s steering wheel

In December, a white Ford Explorer was allowed to drive on Chinese roads and join traffic even though it was blind.

A national rail reform and development plan will also require the country’s future bullet trains to be fully autonomous within 2020.

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