Business / Industries

Robot cars put to the test over long distance

By YAN DONGJIE in Beijing and TAN YINGZI in Chongqing (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-13 02:26

Robot cars put to the test over long distance

A Chinese auto manufacturer began a long-distance road test on its two self-driving cars on Tuesday.

The test showcases the country's ambition to chase international competitors in a red-hot industry that already boasts names such as Google, Audi, Toyota and BMW.

The two cars, manufactured by Changan Automobile in Chongqing, are scheduled to travel 1,900 kilometers from Chongqing to Beijing. The journey is expected to take five days.

A news release by the company said the test cars will run on highways at speeds of 80 to 120 kilometers per hour. A speed of 150 km/h was reached in previous tests.

This is the second-longest distance for such a test in the world, falling short of Audi's coast-to-coast test in the United States that covered 5,000 km last year, Changan said.

Zhang Xu, chief research officer at the Internet Transportation Research Center at consultancy Analysys, said, "If the test is completed with no major accidents, it will be a milestone for China's self-driving car industry, showing that our techniques are close to matching the world's best."

Although it is a self-driving test, drivers are still needed. Two licensed drivers for the test cars take turns every two hours to ensure safety during the test.

Kong Zhouwei, an engineer with Changan who is one of the test drivers on the trip, said, "Our self-driving techniques are still some way from being driverless in the true sense, but we are continuing to adopt mature techniques for mass-produced vehicles after developing, experimenting and road testing."

The two cars will run mainly on highways where driving conditions are easier than those on urban roads.

But dangers remain along the route, such as drivers suddenly cutting in, stray animals and falling stones, which the vehicle sensors need time to acknowledge. Bad weather can also add to the difficulties.

Auto and IT companies globally have been making great efforts to develop self-driving cars equipped with vehicle sensors, cameras and radar.

In China, Guangzhou Automobile Group, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp and BYD, as well as Alibaba and Baidu have announced their involvement.

According to a survey released by the World Economic Forum in November, 76 percent of Chinese said they would not mind riding in a self-driving car, higher than the global average of 58 percent.

Wang Xiaojing, chief engineer at the Ministry of Transport's Highway Research Institute, said, "The Chinese government is cautious but positive on developing such technology, and a specialized testing environment is being established."

This is why Changan has come up with an ambitious plan.

Tan Benhong, executive vice-president of the company's General Research Center, said the State-owned firm plans to start producing self-driving cars by the end of 2018 when "people can see all the tested techniques on mass-produced cars".

After the test, the two cars will be on show this month in Beijing at Auto China.

Chongqing Daily contributed to this story

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