Didi says it will launch a robo taxi service in Shanghai ‘very soon’

Didi VP Tiger Qie says users in Shanghai will be able to hail self-driving cars through its app once the robo-taxi service launches

The company logo of ride hailing company Didi Chuxing is seen on a car door at the IEEV New Energy Vehicles Exhibition in Beijing, China October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing company, is set to launch a so-called robo taxi service in Shanghai “very soon.”, CNBC reports.

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“We are going to launch a robo-taxi service in Shanghai very soon,” Tiger Qie, Didi’s vice president and chief technology officer of its ride-sharing unit, said onstage at CNBC’s East Tech West event in Guangzhou, China. “The users can just hail self-driving vehicles through the Didi app.”

Qie said Didi is currently only able to fulfil 65% of user requests when it comes to rides, but the launch of driverless cars would help it plug the gap in supply and demand. He added that the deployment of self-driven vehicles wouldn’t mean a stop to putting humans behind the wheel.

The company also expects to launch the robotaxis service in Beijing and Shenzhen, two cities with the most jammed streets in China, by as early as 2020.

Didi has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2012, with 550 million users currently registered with its platform. The company took over Uber’s China business back in 2016, and has more recently started expanding abroad into countries like Australia and Mexico.

Founded in 2016, Didi’s autonomous driving unit has more than 200 employees in both China and the U.S., where it received a permit to conduct tests in California last year.

China is poised to become the most significant market for autonomous vehicles and technology. A McKinsey report found out that self-driving vehicles could account for 66% of the passenger-kilometers traveled in 2040, while more than a trillion dollars of revenue could be generated from mobility services operating on self-driving technologies. The consulting firm also expect the annual sales of autonomous vehicles to reach almost a trillion dollars in 20 years.

Given China’s complex traffic environment, autonomous vehicles must adapt to road conditions and aggressive driving behaviors, which could hinder the adoption of the technology.

Jiading, the highly-industrialized district with high quality open roads on which Didi will be operating its robotaxi fleet, also hosts China’s only Formula One track, the Shanghai International Circuit.

Market research firm IDC predicted in a report released earlier this year that 30% of local governments in China will publish detailed rules and regulations regarding self-driving road tests by 2020 in accordance with the central government.

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