Biz / Auto

Leave the driving to us, while you entertain yourself

Everyone talks about the coming era of self-driving cars. That's pie in the sky to many consumers, who are anxious to know how soon the concept will become reality on the streets.
SHINE

Everyone talks about the coming era of self-driving cars. That’s pie in the sky to many consumers, who are anxious to know how soon the concept will become reality on the streets.

China, which seeks to become a world leader in their development, has set some guidelines. By 2020, about half of newly delivered vehicles are to be equipped with driver-assistance features. By 2025, 80 percent are to be equipped with autonomous driving features, according to an industry development plan issued in April.

But Professor Zhu Xichan of the School of Automotive Studies at Tongji University said he thinks the dawn of the new era may be even closer.

By next June, he said, the first licenses allowing the testing of self-driving cars on public roads may be issued. At present, road testing of self-driving cars is allowed only in special closed areas such as the National Intelligent Connected Vehicle Shanghai Pilot Zone.

Is Professor Zhu being overly optimistic? Apparently not.

“China is expected to issue a license next year that allows road testing of self-driving cars,” said David Zhang, an independent automotive consultant. “It means that the government is pushing forward the self-driving vehicle sector. From a global perspective, countries are making great efforts in developing autonomous vehicles. Some countries like United States have already issued self-driving road testing licenses. China will keep up with the global trend.”

It’s not only passenger cars that are part of self-driving development. Self-driving trucks are also under testing.

Ti Gong

A Beijing-based start-up called TuSimple this month conducted road tests of self-driving trucks in the National Intelligent Connected Vehicle Shanghai Pilot Zone.

Using 10 cameras and radar, the trucks can start automatically, travel along a planned route, turn left or right on their own and pass through a tunnel. The trucks can also interact with traffic lights and make decisions on whether they need to stop.

TuSimple’s detection algorithms enable the cameras to “perceive” surroundings just like the human eye. The company’s artificial intelligence system can guide vehicles along the most fuel-​efficient route with precision positioning of only a centimeter.

“Self-driving trucks are expected to improve road safety because more than 90 percent of driving accidents are caused by human error,” said Chen Mo, chief executive officer of TuSimple. “They can also reduce logistics costs and address the problem of a shortage of truck drivers.”

Ti Gong

TuSimple is not the only participant in the field. Late last year, Foton Motor Group and Baidu unveiled a self-driving truck in Shanghai. Foton said driverless trucks are expected to go into production in 2025. FAW Jiefang unveiled its self-driving truck in April this year and plans to commercialize the intelligent driving vehicle in as early as 2018.

Industry analysts, however, said the development of self-driving truck in China is still in the early stages. Still, self-driving trucks may beat passenger vehicles in the race to production because they operate mainly on highways, reducing aspects related to ordinary downtown street traffic.

“The self-driving truck may be a small segment in China, but it has good development prospects because of government encouragement,” said Zhang.

China is an ideal country to lead in pioneering autonomous driving technology because it is a nation of people — primarily young people — who embrace every new technology that comes along. “Chinese consumer acceptance of self-driving is high, based on our studies,” said Andrey Berdichevskiy, director of global lead mobility solutions at Deloitte. “Consumers’ adaptability to new technologies far outpaces the rest of the world. Auto makers are paying attention to this eager audience.”

Consulting firm J.D. Power said in a recent auto industry report that Chinese consumers have a high degree of trust in self-driving technologies, but concerns about safety and regulation persist.


According to a J.D. Power survey of 1,576 Chinese customers and 8,571 US consumers, 78 percent of Chinese respondents indicated they definitely would or probably would trust a fully automated, self-driving vehicle. This is contrast to US consumers, where only 31 percent shared the same sentiment.

The survey found that the best thing Chinese consumers like about the idea of self-driving vehicles is the freedom to “engage in other activities while driving.” It also found that they believe autonomous driving will be less pressured.

J.D. Power said those perceptions arise from the stressful urban lifestyle today in China and the serious traffic congestion in Chinese cities.

According to the report, about 60 percent of respondents say they would read books, watch videos, surf the Internet, play games, send text messages and play online games while in a self-driving vehicle.

“As a consumer, I am basically optimistic about self-driving vehicles,” said Zhou Yiming, a student at Tongji University. “I am looking forward to the application of partially autonomous driving so I can send messages via WeChat to talk to family and friends when driving.”

He said self-driving cars may also help to ease traffic congestion in cities like Shanghai.

“I hope self-driving will help me to relieve the stress of traffic jams,” Zhou added. “All in all, as a consumer, I hope technology will make driving more enjoyable.”

Still, niggling concerns remain. Some consumers said they are concerned about technical failures and errors in self-driving cars. According to the J.D. Power report, 53 percent of Chinese consumers fall in that category. About 18 percent wondered just who will be liable if accidents occur. Eleven percent worried about self-driving car systems being hacked.

“For consumers, the biggest concern may still lie in safety considerations,” Zhou agreed. “If the vehicle has technical problems or system errors, it would be dangerous.”


Special Reports
Top