In Shanghai, customers-guinea pigs settle down without fear at the back of a taxi without a driver that they have ordered online: the local giants of the autonomous car are trying to generalize this futuristic technology to the Chinese fond of innovation.
Streets full of cars driving without human intervention? This is a scene worthy of a science-fiction film is still distant, for reasons including technological, safety and regulatory.
But in a context of strong rivalry technology between Beijing and Washington, the main actors of the technology companies in china have launched projects of autonomous vehicles in several cities, like their american counterparts.
Among them, Baidu (owner of the search engine the most popular of China), DiDi Chuxing (vehicle of tourism with chauffeur), or even AutoX (supported by the local giant of e-commerce Alibaba).
The CEO of AutoX, Xiao Jianxiong, says even want to start on the road its first vehicle, completely self-sufficient before the end of the year.
In the economic capital of china where there are nearly 25 million people, “robotaxis” launched in June by DiDi Chuxing (the “Uber of china”) already attract many users eager to test the device.
Using an application, they indicate the route they wish to perform. They are then picked up by a Volvo brand new packed with electronics and surmounted by a radar spinning.
A sign on the side still experimental service: an employee occupies the driver’s seat, ready to grab the wheel in case of unexpected…
But not enough to cool Da Xuan, a female employee of a social network, which has decided to offer a taste of the future.
“Companies like Uber or Tesla make driving autonomous. So I was curious to see where the chinese companies”, she explains.
“Everything went without a hitch”, she said, adding that she feels safe in this type of vehicle.
Only constraint for the user: the desired path must for the moment be confined within a clearly-defined perimeter, located in the suburb of Shanghai.
In the atmosphere, sometimes anarchic street of china, the vehicle accelerates, slows down and takes turns with confidence. “Your car has been disinfected”, “we grant the right of way to pedestrians”, announced during the trip a sweet female voice broadcast in the cabin.
When a truck driving in front of the Volvo sheered suddenly, the artificial intelligence slows down the vehicle brilliantly and smoothly.
The system, however, still need to break in. To a stop, the braking is so abrupt that the passengers are slightly projected towards the front. And any deviation from the intended route requires a human intervention.
But Meng Xing, director-general of the autonomous control in DiDi Chuxing, says this: “artificial intelligence “is already enough to handle most situations without need to touch the steering wheel and brakes.
Elon Musk, the mercurial boss of Tesla, has assured at the beginning of July that the manufacturer of electric vehicles u.s. successfully this year to develop a car fully autonomous. An assertion called into question by many analysts.
According to Paul Lewis, head of research at the Eno Center for Transportation, a non-profit organization based in Washington, the counters are “reset to zero” in terms of waiting, because the technology is not yet to the point.
“The engineers are starting to realize the limits of artificial intelligence” and there remains “a long way” before they can produce a car that was 100% self-sufficient.
But Xiao Jianxiong, for AutoX, refers to a deployment of “significant” vehicle of the next two or three years, despite the obstacles, regulatory and technological.
“It is a question of time and effort. But it will come”, he says.
For its part, Baidu plans of the centres of testing of autonomous cars in ten cities of China, including Beijing. The company tests in addition to a fleet of 45 taxis in Changsha (centre).
Despite the blur persistent on this technology, DiDi Chuxing sees big: a head of a company of VTC, said in June wanting to manage a million autonomous vehicles by 2030.
“There’s still 0.5% of the problems to be solved. But we believe in the future. We will provide a service more secure than a driver being human.”