Uber’s fatal self-driving car accident continues to send repercussions through the autonomous vehicle industry, and has fomented public doubt concerning the technology’s safety. In response, Uber halted all its road tests for self-driving cars. And so it came as somewhat unexpected news when on March 22nd the Beijing Municipal Government gave tech unicorn Baidu the green light to test driverless cars on the city’s public roads.
Baidu is the first company to be granted special license plates for autonomous vehicle testing on public roads in the Chinese capital.
In December 2017 Beijing issued China’s first self-driving vehicle policies in the official statements “Guiding Opinions on Accelerating the Road Test of Autonomous Vehicles (Test Version)” and “Autonomous Driving Vehicle Road Test Management Regulations (Test Version), which detailed basic thresholds for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads, mandating for example that test vehicles must not drive on public roads, carry US$800k in insurance, be assessed and approved by the municipality’s management agency at closed test sites, exclude passengers that are not testing engineers, and that no more than five vehicles can participate in a single test.
Subsequent regulations such as “Standards and Methods for Assessing Autonomous Vehicles’ Road Test Capability (Test Version),” “Road Test Requirements for Autonomous Vehicles at Closed Test Sites,” and “Road Prerequisites for Autonomous Vehicles Road Tests” introduced more detailed clauses.
The safety regulations in these documents state that autonomous vehicles tested on public routes must complete 5,000km training at designated closed testing sites, be able to comply with traffic regulations, and have a sound response plan prepared in case of emergency. Test engineers must have over three years driving experience, complete 50 hours of operational training, and be ready to take control of the vehicle at any time. Unless specified, testing vehicles are required to avoid peak traffic times and bad weather. Tests can only be conducted on routes outside Beijing’s 5th ring road.
Baidu is China’s leading tech company in the self-driving space. In February it released the self-driving dataset ApolloSpace, which is about 10 times larger than any other existing open-source dataset. Baidu’s platform Apollo grants developers access to a complete set of service solutions and open-source codes and enables software engineers to convert a Lincoln MKZ into a self-driving vehicle in about 48 hours. Apollo has also joined the UC Berkeley DeepDrive (BDD) Industry Consortium, led by Professor Darrell.
Although Beijing is being relatively prudent in its approach to self-driving vehicles on public roads, the Baidu permits are a huge step forward for autonomous research. Shanghai, Chongqing, and Shenzhen are also making relevant policies in this space. Interested readers can follow up here: Global Survey of Autonomous Vehicle Regulations.
Journalist: Meghan Han| Editor: Michael Sarazen