China’s largest search engine, Baidu, have been granted a temporary license to test self-driving vehicles on public roads. Temporary license plates assigned to self-driving cars in China come in three levels ranging from T1-T5.
Baidu has reportedly obtained three T5 plates. Cars in this category are required to possess exhaustive abilities including cognition and traffic law compliance, route execution, and emergency execution. China has invested heavily in self-driving technology and have quickly added legislation in place regarding testing after the sector expanded rapidly.
We are honored to be a part of a major milestone in #AutonomousDriving history today in receiving the first-ever permits for Autonomous Driving Road Testing in #Beijing! To mark the occasion, the 5 newly-licensed @ApolloPlatform cars hit the road for a #testdrive! #mobilitypic.twitter.com/Zx5o2IVSpt— Baidu Inc. (@Baidu_Inc) March 22, 2018
Strict testing conditions
Cars are restricted to be tested only on designated roads. These 33 roads which roughly total 105 km are all 10km from the city center of Beijing. Any car undergoing testing must have also previously completed more than 5,000km of drive time at a closed test site.
Beijing hosts a closed 13.3-hectare area in the Haidian District for this testing. “With supportive policies, we believe that Beijing will become a rising hub for the autonomous driving industry,” Baidu Vice-President Zhao Cheng said.
In addition to the cars high level of technology, every self-driving car must have a driver who can take over control of the vehicle at any stage. These test drivers must have at least 50 hours of self-driving training before being able to test cars on public streets.
Baidu are not along in their pus for developing self-driving vehicles. Testing of cars has started in Shanghai backed by the Chinese electric vehicle startup NIO and state-owned automaker SAIC Motor.
Self-driving fatality halts testing
Plans to expand testing programs comes on the back of news that an Uber self-driving car hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in the United States last week. The car was reported traveling at 64 kmh and did not slow down or swerve to avoid collision with the pedestrian.
There was a safety driver present at the time of the collision. Dashcam footage released this week of the incident show that the driver was not paying attention to the road at the time of the impact.
The fatality is believed to the first reported death of a self-driving car. The crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board but the local police chief involved has already commented, "Uber would likely not be at fault in this incident."
Uber has temporarily suspended its self-driving testing program in the wake of the crash and other self-driving companies have followed suit. Toyota has paused its autonomous vehicle testing telling online press, "Because Toyota Research Institute (TRI) feels the incident may have an emotional effect on its test drivers, TRI has decided to temporarily pause its own Chauffeur mode testing on public roads.”
Apollo invests 1.5bn in self-drivng tech
China seems determined to push forward with self-driving vehicle development in the global race to perfect the technology. Baidu have spread their chances of being involved in the leading company by setting up a $1.5 billion autonomous driving fund called Apollo.
“Apollo provides an open, reliable and secure software platform for its partners to develop their own autonomous driving systems through on-vehicle and hardware platforms,” said the company's website. The company has already created 80 partnerships and have hopes for fully autonomous vehicles to hit the road before 2020.