DiDi Chuxing has begun trials for self-driving taxis in Shanghai, offering free trips to users who are prepared to trust the AI-powered machines.
The ride-hailing and transportation service, effectively a Chinese-version of Uber, has geofenced the trials to downtown Shanghai, but is making a firm commitment to the future of transport, a worrying sign for professional drivers around the world.
“AI in transportation will no doubt revolutionize safety and efficiency of the urban transit system,” said DiDi CEO Cheng Wei.
“DiDi’s biggest strengths are in our rich use cases, data capabilities and a strongest long-term commitment to what we believe to be a clear direction of the future. It will be a long way and takes at least a decade of continued investment, before AV technology passes critical technology, business and regulatory milestones; but we are determined to tackle the challenges ahead.”
On-board mandatory safety drivers will still be present for emergency response, but the vehicles will be primarily operated by the AI. The service is geofenced for the moment, as V2X (vehicle-to-everything) hardware has only been deployed at a select number of intersections in the area.
It would perhaps surprise few this technology is being driven forward, forgive the pun, in China, but the implications are certainly global.
Uber is a company which has revolutionised the approach to transportation almost everywhere with an internet connection, but the financials of the business are somewhat iffy. With the company continuing to swallow financial losses at each earnings call, some have made the suggestion it will never be a profitable company until autonomous driving becomes mainstream.
|Financial performance of Uber (USD – $, thousands)|
Source: Uber Investor Relations
If the traditional transportation industry thought the introduction of Uber was a disruption, just wait until autonomous vehicles start hitting the road. This is not only a threat to revenues, autonomous taxis will supposedly be cheaper, but an existential threat to the career itself.
Autonomous technology will look attractive to transport companies, as we, the workforce, are the biggest burden to any accountant’s spreadsheets. There aren’t many companies where any column would eclipse the vast expense of paying salaries, not to mention how much of a nuisance we are in terms of demanding breaks, weekends and holidays.
Different regions will have different regulatory requirements with regards to autonomous vehicles, but this is a trial many will be watching with enthusiasm.