Self-driving cars traveled 150,000 kilometers in Beijing in 2018

By Chris Udemans
2 min read
(Image credit: BigStock/Akarat Phasura)

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) traveled more than 150,000 kilometers on Beijing’s roads in 2018, with search giant Baidu’s fleet accounting for more than 90% of the total, according to an industry report.

The trips were made by more than 50 vehicles from eight companies that have been granted licenses to test self-driving cars in the country’s capital, the city’s Municipal Commission of Transport and two other government departments said in the report (in Chinese).

Baidu’s 45 vehicles traveled almost 140,000 kilometers, taking the top spot in terms of mileage in the city. Self-driving startup Pony.ai conducted 10,000 kilometers of tests, while ride-hailing giant Didi’s vehicles traveled just 78 kilometers—the lowest figure of all eight companies. Also included are internet and social media giant Tencent, state-owned automaker BAIC, German car manufacturers Daimler and Audi, and new energy vehicle maker Nio.

While the report disclosed the total distance traveled by the AVs, it made no mention of how often human drivers were required to intervene and take control of the car—known as “disengagements.”

In February, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) released data on AV testing in the state, including the distance driven and the number of times a human driver was required to take over. Pony.ai and Baidu were among dozens of firms required to report to the US government body. The two Chinese companies logged 1,600 kilometers and 330 kilometers per disengagement, respectively.

However, the DMV’s reporting standards are also limited—companies are required to provide their own data, with no mention of weather, road type, or speed, all of which play a role in how effective a vehicle’s autonomous systems are.

Numerous cities around China have issued licenses for testing self-driving cars and the country has laid out formidable goals these types of vehicles. By 2020, the country expects half of all new cars on its roads to be autonomous or semi-autonomous, with the number of these vehicles predicted to be more than 8 million by 2035.

As a result, AVs have been made a priority as part of the country’s Made in China 2025 initiative, through which it aims to upgrade its economy and move up the value chain. AVs are particularly important for the country given that their success is underpinned by China’s artificial intelligence prowess, for which the government has set ambitious targets. The State Council, China’s cabinet, aims for the country to be a world leader in AI by 2030.