Pony.ai has just announced that it’s the first to offer fully autonomous car rides to the public in China. On Tuesday, the company revealed that it held a launch event this month where attendees took a 1.7 mile ride around Nansha, near the company’s headquarters. From here, Pony.ai plans to establish an autonomous pilot zone in Guangzhou to allow more people to try the vehicles.
“Starting today, we are thrilled to give Guangzhou citizens their first opportunity to experience self-driving cars,” said Tiancheng Lou, co-founder and chief technology officer of Pony.ai. “We hope that this moment marks a pivotal point towards a safer and more efficient mobility future.”
The fleet consisted of six cars, four Lincoln MKZ four-door sedans and two GAC Chuanqis sports utility vehicles, taking to the streets on a Friday morning. The route challenged the technology by moving through sloped bridge ramps, lane changes and large intersections, ending at Nansha’s civic square. Over a three-month period, the company was able to modify and test the vehicles ready for rollout.
View the test route below:
Pony.ai has moved from strength to strength since its late 2016 founding. In January, the company announced the largest single funding round for a Chinese autonomous car company yet, valued at $112 million and including seed investors like IDG Capital. At the public demo event on February 2, it was supported by partners like lidar maker Velodyne, a brand that has been used in test cars by Ford and Alphabet. On Tuesday, Pony.ai also announced a deal with China’s second largest automaker, GAC Group, to develop autonomous technologies together.
“The combination of Pony.ai’s world-class capability in software development and GAC Group’s exceptional capability in vehicle technology and production will undoubtedly yield an unparalleled autonomous driving system,” said James Peng, co-founder and CEO of Pony.ai.
However, it may not be long before Pony.ai faces some stiff competition. Its American headquarters are located in Fremont, California, the same city where Tesla is producing its $35,000 Model 3 electric car. CEO Elon Musk hopes to enable autonomous driving in these cars through a software update, switching on a widespread taxi fleet at the blink of an eye. If Musk can pull it off, it could pose a challenge to companies like Pony.ai working to get a foothold in the market.