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Driverless vehicles get smarter by the day

By MA SI | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-09 10:19
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An inspector tests the operation of an autonomous bus in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, in June 2021. [Photo/China News Service]

Transportation is getting smarter in China as wider applications of 5G wireless smart technologies play an increasing role in supporting autonomous driving and vehicle-road coordination, company executives and experts said.

Yu Qian, CEO and founder of Chinese autonomous driving startup QCraft, said the autonomous driving sector is arriving at a "golden inflection point of growth", with policies becoming increasingly clear and open, and technologies such as 5G and algorithms more powerful.

Starting from July, QCraft and Chinese ride-sharing platform T3 began to provide robotaxi services, offering rides to passengers using self-driving cars within certain areas in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, where the companies had already been testing such services.

QCraft is also one of the three companies, along with Baidu Inc and AI pioneer SenseTime, that obtained licenses from Beijing in April to conduct road tests for autonomous buses on selected thoroughfares in the capital.

The Beijing municipal working office of the high-level autonomous driving demonstration zone said it would allow road tests of its first batch of eight autonomous buses from the above three companies.

Jia Yuanhua, a professor of transportation engineering at the school of traffic and transportation at Beijing Jiaotong University, said intelligent transport systems involve the application of sensing, analysis, and control and communications technologies to surface transport in order to improve safety, mobility and efficiency.

With the support of government policies, Beijing, Shanghai, Hebei and Hunan provinces and elsewhere have conducted pilot and demonstration projects in frontier areas such as autonomous driving and vehicle-road coordination, Jia said.

Thanks to technological advances such as 5G and the internet of things, unmanned buses in Suzhou; Shenzhen, Guangdong province; Changsha, Hunan province; and Xiamen, Fujian province, have launched such operations.

The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) proposes to build urban intelligent transportation and green transportation systems, accelerate the digital transformation of traditional transportation infrastructure, give priority to the development of urban public transportation and promote the construction of new smart cities.

Jiang Xin, deputy general manager of smart transportation products at China Mobile's Shanghai industrial research department, said with the integration of 5G, navigation satellites, AI, big data and other technologies, urban transportation is gradually becoming ultramodern, making its management via high-tech possible. Such a trend will become even more evident in the future.

Driverless buses were in operation on some open roads in four countries-China, the United States, Finland and Germany-as of May 2021, said a joint report released by QCraft, China Mobile and research firm CB Insights last year.

The length of autonomous bus routes in China reached 54.6 kilometers as of May 2021, 8.6 times the figure in the US, accounting for 85 percent of the world's length of driverless bus routes, the report said.

Li Weiwei, a professor of smart transportation at the college of traffic and transportation of Chongqing Jiaotong University, said to build an intelligent network-connected public transportation system, it is necessary to carry out intelligent upgrading to improve roads and help install equipment such as video surveillance, lidar, millimeter-wave radar and cutting-edge servers.

This will facilitate full network coverage of 5G and LTE-V2X or long-term evolution vehicle-to-everything technologies, and help build a vehicle-road-cloud integrated system, Li said.

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