Chinese autonomous driving startup WeRide said Friday that it has started testing driverless vehicles on the open road, a milestone previously only reached by Waymo, the autonomous-driving project built on technology developed in U.S. tech giant Google’s laboratories.
Three-year-old WeRide, backed by Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi, said in a statement that it started tests on Wednesday on open roads in a designated area of Guangzhou after the southern Chinese city granted permission.
In China, companies such as Toyota-backed Pony.ai, Baidu Inc, and Didi Chuxing are also testing autonomous cars, but all with one or two safety staff onboard. The people onboard take control in unexpected situations.
WeRide said it will use a remote centre to take control of their vehicles if needed.
In the United States, Alphabet Inc Waymo is testing passenger vehicles without a safety driver. Nuro, another startup, is allowed to test driverless delivery vehicles on a small scale in California.
WeRide is pursuing a level 4 autonomous standard, in which the car can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention. It said its driverless testing fleet comprises 10 Lincoln MKZ sedans.
The company, led by former Baidu executive Tony Han, also operates a fleet of more than 40 autonomous taxis and 60 test cars.
Automakers and tech companies including Waymo, Tesla Inc and Uber Technologies are investing billions in the autonomous driving industry.
But industry insiders have said it would take years for the technology to mature and for the public to trust autonomous vehicles.
WeRide said most of its tests were being conducted in a zone measuring about 1.83 sq. kilometers in Guangzhou that is fully covered by 5G signals. This helps reduce the average latency — a measure of network delay — for WeRide cars to 13 milliseconds, according to the company. Less latency means a driverless car can respond more quickly.
“The path to achieving safe, fully driverless vehicles on open roads is one marked by many incremental steps,” said Mark Natkin, founder of Beijing-based consulting firm Marbridge Consulting.
“If the vehicle can establish a good record of driving safely on a small stretch of open road, maybe one with a relatively low speed limit that is not so heavily trafficked, then the company can convince the authorities and the public to allow a further trial, this time on a slightly larger stretch of road, or one that is marginally busier, or [that] has a slightly higher speed limit,” he said.