The world has been inching toward fully autonomous cars for years. In China, one company just got even closer to making it a reality.
Residents of Shenzhen will see truly driverless cars on the road starting this week. AutoX, a four-year-old startup backed by Alibaba, MediaTek and Shanghai Motors, is deploying a fleet of 25 unmanned vehicles in downtown Shenzhen, marking the first time any autonomous driving car in China tests without safety drivers or remote operators on public roads.
Shenzhen is making a lot of rapid progress on legislation for self-driving cars. China wants to bring its smart driving industry on par with the U.S. Cities from Shenzhen to Shanghai are competing to attract autonomous driving upstarts by clearing regulatory hurdles, touting subsidies and putting up 5G infrastructure.
AutoX was founded in 2016 by Xiao, a former assistant lecturer at Princeton who still likes to be called "Professor X." The Shenzhen-based firm focuses on making the technology that goes into self-driving cars, and partners with major automakers, such as Fiat Chrysler, to develop and put out its robotaxis.
AutoX already has more than 100 robotaxis deployed in five Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Wuhan. Over the next year, it aims to double its reach to more than 10 local cities. Whether the company can pull humans from behind the wheel in other markets depends on local regulators.
Chinese tech giant Baidu (BIDU) also announced that anyone could try its robotaxi service in certain districts of Beijing. Both of those programs require dedicated safety drivers.