Pitched as a means of better meeting increasing demand, this autonomous fleet service will be a complement to the current ride-hailing service, which means that the autonomous and human-driven vehicles are going to co-exist in the ecosystem where Didi is by far the dominant player.
Founded in 2012, Didi has expanded into Australia and Mexico and has plans to roll out in Costa Rica. It has 550 million users after buying Uber China in 2016. “We are going to launch a robo-taxi service in Shanghai very soon," Tiger Qie, Didi's Vice President and the Chief Technology Officer of its ride-sharing unit, said onstage at CNBC's East Tech West event in Guangzhou, China. "The users will be able to just hail self-driving vehicles through the Didi app."
DiDi split its autonomous driving unit into a separate company earlier this year. With R&D centers in the US and China, DiDi has seen 200 staff join the autonomous driving department since it launched.
Currently, there are several standards to measure levels of vehicle automation. According to the SAE, there are six levels from Level 0, no automation, to Level 5, full automation, based on the execution of steering and acceleration/deceleration, monitoring of the driving environment, the fallback performance of dynamic driving tasks and system capability.
While traditional automotive suppliers such as Moblieye seem to have competitive advantages in L3, tech firms are keeping their eyes on L4 and L5, such as Waymo, the self-driving car subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet.
Recently, Bosch, a company with a consolidated revenue of more than EUR 78 billion, made the single-largest investment in its history. Bosch is pouring 1 billion euros into a new plant in eastern Germany, to bolster its growing automotive electronics business and respond to autonomous vehicle demands. According to Strategy Analytics, Bosch is the sixth-largest supplier in the USD 38 billion automotive semiconductor market, its portfolio includes MEMS sensory chips which are also used in smartphones and wearables.
According to Strategy Analytics, the autonomous driving technology will enable a new Passenger Economy worth an estimated USD 7 trillion by 2050.
Such a comprehensive project has to be backed by central and local governments. Chinese regulators are paying increasing attention to autonomous driving-related businesses. There are stricter regulations and laws for road tests though.
"Self-driving cars still have a long way to go before becoming a common feature on the roads," said President Feng Xingya of Guangzhou Automobile Group.