Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced on Sunday that it gained a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.
The permit allows the firm to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of Guangzhou.
According to the company’s statement, it will start charging fares in 800 square km of the district with driverless cars. Eventually, passengers can hail and pay for rides with Pony.ai’s own mobile application.
Pony.ai initially deployed those cars with safety drivers. Then, the company expects them to remove them over the short to intermediate time frame.
The Toyota-backed Chinese start-up initially received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business. However, consent is not the same as a taxi license. The initial move is on a much smaller, industrial zone trial basis.
Pony.ai explained that its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and other countries. Then, there must be no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents and other factors.
The firm is currently active in the United States and China. It tests driverless technology on public roads in California’s Fremont and Milpitas and the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Beijing.
The firm’s latest announcement comes at a time when startups have poured billions of dollars into autonomous technology. This specifically aims to take an early lead in the future of mobility.
Similarly, its rival, Baidu’s Apollo Go, received the same permission in the same district last year. This turning point marked a significant step toward building a driverless taxi business.
Consequently, Baidu mentioned that it plans to launch commercial Robotaxi businesses in two other major Chinese cities this year. The firm currently tests self-driving cars in those cities and California.
Pony.ai and other robotaxis races for approval
Aside from Pony.ai, a host of startups from the US and China race to gain approval for driverless rides.
In recent months, Momenta and automaker SAIC received their official permit for a trial for their robotaxi service in Shanghai. This move followed a similar act in Guangzhou by Nissan-backed company Weride.
In Shenzhen, Alibaba-backed AutoX also tests robotaxis in a highly congested urban area with lots of pedestrian and moped traffic.
Furthermore, self-driving taxi operators like Alphabet’s Waymo examine similar products in the US, primarily in California and Arizona.
Likewise, General Motor-backed Cruise applied last year with the Californian government to finally approve its operations.