China’s autonomous cars are coming for passengers in the United States. AutoX and Pony.ai just became the first Chinese companies allowed to offer robotaxis in the state of California, according to notices posted on the website of the California Public Utilities Commission this week.
Started in 2016 by Princeton University professor Jianxiong Xiao, called “Professor X” by his students, AutoX is now one of China’s most well-funded autonomous driving startups alongside Pony.ai, which was co-founded in 2016 by two former executives at Baidu’s self-driving department.
AutoX 于 2016 年由普林斯顿大学教授肖建雄创立，而肖建雄也被学生们称作 “X 教授”。目前，AutoX 是中国资金最充足的自动驾驶创业公司之一。小马智行于 2016 年由百度自动驾驶部门的两名前高管创立。
While more than 62 companies hold the permits to test autonomous vehicles in California, very few are actually allowed to transport people in those cars. Zoox passed a new milestone when it received the first green light to provide robotaxi services in the state six months ago. Now AutoX and Pony.ai have joined the exclusive club, bringing to three the number of participants in the pilot program.
Screenshot from the California Public Utilities Commission website
There are a few catches, though. The type of permission granted to the three companies is for the “Drivered AV Passenger Service,” which forbids companies to charge passengers for test rides and requires a safety driver behind the wheel. No entity has so far been permitted to run real driverless passenger services in California, a sign that regulators aren’t quite ready to let tech companies transport the public without human oversight.
不过仍然有一些限制。这 3 家公司获得的许可类型是 “有司机的自动驾驶汽车客运服务”，这种服务禁止公司向乘客收取试乘费用，并要求有司机坐在方向盘后。到目前为止，还没有任何实体被允许在加州提供真正的无人驾驶客运服务。这表明，监管机构还没有做好准备，让科技公司在真正无人监控的情况下进行客运。
AutoX, which is already using self-driving vehicles to deliver groceries in San Jose, is getting a headstart by introducing California’s first robotaxi service. People living in north San Jose or Santa Clara can now apply to join its early-rider program and give feedback, says an instruction on its website. A spokesperson for Pony.ai told TechCrunch that the company also began offering robotaxi services as soon as it received the permit.
Alphabet’s Waymo launched a passenger service in Phoenix last December and said it would have a trained driver to assist passengers if needed. While Waymo is allowed to charge passengers, it can only ferry a vetted group of people, so the program isn’t available to everyone.
去年 12 月，Alphabet 旗下 Waymo 在凤凰城推出客运服务。与加州一样，亚利桑那州也要求自动驾驶汽车配备训练有素的司机，在必要的情况下来协助操作。尽管 Waymo 被允许对客运服务收费，但只能运送经过审核的人群，因此并不是所有人都可以参与这个项目。
These confinements seem sensible, given legal and ethical concerns raised by critics. Last year, Uber’s self-driving test vehicle struck and killed a woman in Temple, prompting the transportation giant to suspend its test drives. The incident has become a cautionary tale for startups in the field. Take Momenta, the first Chinese autonomous driving startup to pass $1 billion in valuation. The CEO requires all executives to ride a minimum number of autonomous miles themselves, so management would put passenger safety first.
考虑到批评者提出的法律和道德担忧，这些限制似乎是合理的。去年，Uber 的自动驾驶测试车辆在 Temple 撞死了一名女性，导致该公司暂停了自动驾驶汽车的测试。这起事件已成为该领域创业公司的警示故事。以 Momenta，这个中国首家估值超过 10 亿美元的自动驾驶创业公司为例。该公司 CEO 要求所有高管都亲自乘坐自动驾驶汽车一定里程数，从而让管理层把乘客安全放在首位。
Chinese startups covet the California license for a number of reasons. First, self-driving cars are by nature data-hungry. There are only a small handful of cities worldwide that allow robotaxis on public roads, so it always helps to collect more mileage whenever permissible.
Many of these Chinese companies have also set up research and development centers in California to tap the region’s tech talent. Pony .ai, for example, deploys R&D staff and offices across Silicon Valley, Beijing and Guangzhou. AutoX opened an R&D center in Shenzhen earlier this year, but still keeps development teams in San Jose.