AutoX speeding in autonomous driving

Writer: Cao Zhen  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2023-11-22

Video by Xu Shuntian

In Pingshan District, with just a few taps on your mobile phone, you can easily hail a driverless robotaxi to embark on a futuristic ride. In June, AutoX and Apollo Go obtained the pilot licenses from Pingshan District to provide paid driverless robotaxi services in the district.

All in L4 autonomy

The base vehicle for AutoX’s service in Pingshan is a Chrysler Pacifica equipped with AutoX’s fifth-generation self-developed system, which can achieve Level 4 autonomy, meaning no human driver is needed in the vehicle.

“Each vehicle is equipped with 50 high-precision sensors, including 28 8-megapixel high-resolution cameras, high-intensity LiDAR, and 4D millimeter-wave radars, enabling an accurate and panoramic navigation of complex and ever-changing road conditions,” said Lin Tailai, vice president of AutoX.

Lin Tailai, vice president of AutoX, introduces AutoX's business. Photo by Xu Shuntian

He introduced that AutoX’s integrated hardware and software design is based on advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and massive road-condition data analysis. Mass-production-level quality checks and its full-stack systematic safety redundancy enable the company to remove human safety drivers from the vehicles.

“With the traffic regulations embedded in our vehicles’ system, the robotaxis can perceive the environment from a comprehensive perspective. Since the vehicles can accurately identify and perceive objects from a long distance and make plans in advance, the ride is very smooth, providing a comfortable experience for passengers,” Lin added.

If passengers are unfamiliar with the touch-screen interface or have an emergency when boarding a robotaxi, remote assistance from AutoX’s operation center in Pingshan will be offered. The six-floor operation center, home to nearly 600 robotaxis, carries out comprehensive maintenance, data feedback, calibration, testing and upgrades, etc. Before each robotaxi hits the road, a stringent safety inspection is conducted. Standard deployment in the operation center allows AutoX to operate driverless vehicles in Pingshan, not only on wide streets, but also on bustling roads and narrow lanes in urban villages.

An AutoX robotaxi runs in Pingshan. Photos courtesy of AutoX unless otherwise stated

Growth in a city of innovation

AutoX was founded by Dr. Xiao Jianxiong in the Silicon Valley, the U.S. in 2016 and headquartered in Shenzhen in 2018. Holding a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Xiao, an expert in computer vision, robotics and autonomous driving, previously served as an assistant professor at Princeton University.

With over 1,000 research and development (R&D) professionals, the startup has R&D and operation centers in Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Silicon Valley, providing a robust foundation for its expanding robotaxi fleet. Testing and operation have been conducted in many cities.

“With a thriving technology and innovation ecosystem, Shenzhen has an environment that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, high social efficiency and progressive policies. In Shenzhen, we are mostly likely to gather the greatest number of top talents to tackle technological challenges,” Lin said. “Meanwhile, Shenzhen’s economic vitality and its plans for intelligent connected vehicles and smart cities offer a favorable environment for AutoX’s development. That’s why we set the headquarters in Shenzhen and established the largest and the most advanced operation center in Pingshan,” he added.

A passenger watches an interactive screen in an AutoX robotaxi.

Supportive policies

In this emerging industry of autonomous driving, companies not only need to master cutting-edge technologies, but also need supportive policies regarding road openness to conduct testing and operation in extensive areas and various scenarios to obtain abundant testing data.

Last year, Shenzhen released China’s first regulation for managing intelligent connected vehicles (ICVs). It provides specific provisions on the definition of ICV autonomous driving, market access rules, road rights and determining liability. As of August, Shenzhen has opened 771 kilometers of roads for ICV testing and will open up 89 kilometers of expressway sections.

In addition, Shenzhen is also accelerating its smart transportation infrastructure development, such as an ICV-road-cloud integrated supervision platform, providing more convenience for data accumulation and safety for enterprises.

With new energy vehicle and ICV as one of its three key industries, Pingshan has the city’s only ICV testing and demonstration zone. Last year, the district became the first in the country to establish a district-level regulation regarding whole-area openness for ICVs; and this year, it rolled out the commercial pilot licenses for ICVs.

Currently, Pingshan has opened a total of 440 kilometers of roads for ICV testing, accounting for nearly 60% of the city’s total. Driverless minibuses, as well as delivery and sanitation vehicles have also been put into pilot operation in Pingshan, enriching the ICV scenarios. 

“These policies have been providing better R&D and testing infrastructure for AutoX and creating conditions for demonstration operations. They are fueling the progress of the ICV industry and greatly enhancing our confidence in investing in autonomous driving technologies, products and commercialization. We believe that by leveraging large-scale production, a mature industrial chain and supportive policies, autonomous driving will achieve profitability in the near future,” Lin said.

An AutoX robotaxi runs in Shenzhen.

From SZ to the world 

In August, Shenzhen’s industry and information technology bureau released a three-year action plan to transform the city into a new-generation world-class automotive city. The plan supports the establishment of more ICV R&D centers and the collaboration of top enterprises in key technological R&D such as algorithms, LiDAR and in-vehicle communication.

“This grand plan includes key projects such as core technological breakthrough, industrial space optimization and industrial quality improvement. Our current work falls in line with many of them, so we will continue to perfect our advanced AI technology and perform extensive road data analysis to strive to be an industry leader,” Lin noted.

AutoX currently operates a fleet of over 1,000 robotaxis globally. In 2020, the startup obtained the world’s second license for passenger test rides in driverless vehicles in California, the U.S., becoming the first Chinese company to receive such a license. “AutoX participates in the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ technology ranking every year. Early this year, AutoX was ranked second in Miles Per Intervention,” Lin said.

Faced with intense competition in California, Lin said AutoX will continually enhance its technological strength to solidify its competitiveness. “Since our inception, we have embraced a global strategic development goal. While rooted in China, we maintain an international perspective and actively deploy operations worldwide. AutoX seeks to provide safe, convenient, intelligent, comfortable and environmentally friendly autonomous driving services for global communities.”

AutoX's robotaxis run in the United States.

In Pingshan District, with just a few taps on your mobile phone, you can easily hail a driverless robotaxi to embark on a futuristic ride. In June, AutoX and Apollo Go obtained the pilot licenses from Pingshan District to provide paid driverless robotaxi services in the district.