A man holds a door to a Didi self-driving car during last month’s World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai. Picture: REUTERS

Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing plans to start using self-driving vehicles to pick up passengers in Shanghai and hopes to expand the scheme outside China by 2021.

Local authorities in Shanghai last week issued licences — the first in China — for operational tests of smart and connected cars with passengers in them, that would pave the way for commercial robotaxis in the future.

The licences were given to car-hailing ride service Didi Chuxing as well as to car manufacturer SAIC Motor and BMW that allow them to conduct autonomous driving projects in real urban scenarios.

Each of the three companies are permitted to run 50 vehicles for pilot programs including robotaxis, unmanned deliveries and other autonomous driving services. The licence holders can increase the number of test vehicles after six months if there are no traffic violations.

A driver will be onboard to take over if needed.

“China has some of the most complicated traffic scenarios in the world, so the BMW Group’s automated driving R&D in China has become an important part of autonomous driving development worldwide,” the German carmaker said.

“Self-driving vehicles will be one of the most important areas in artificial intelligence over the next 10 years,” said a Didi spokesperson.

Tech giants such as China’s Baidu and Alphabet’s Waymo as well as traditional carmakers have been racing to put full commercial self-driving vehicles on the road.

However, some have stumbled due to the difficulty and expense of developing self-driving cars capable of anticipating and responding to humans in urban areas.

In December, Waymo began charging passengers to use its driverless vehicles in a roughly 160km zone in four US suburbs.

Via Businesslive.com