Although Baidu has trumpeted “fully driverless vehicles” in China, the Financial Times reported that a visit to the group’s autonomous driving centre in Beijing in June found each robotaxi was remotely monitored by a human sitting in an arcade-like driving station ready to intervene. The monitoring is required by regulators, according to the newspaper, which quoted consultancy Bain as predicting that the current scale of commercial trials means China is tracking towards a “tipping point” of around 2027 for the key technologies to be commercially viable at a large scale.
Bain expects a similar timeframe for completing the legal framework for liability and insurance and improving the accompanying road and telecoms infrastructure. The Financial Times said the ability of companies to tap into cities’ networks of roadside cameras, traffic lights and other inner-city infrastructure, as well as widespread 5G coverage and digital mapping, is already underpinning industry confidence in China.
However, a global survey of autonomous vehicle executives by McKinsey found that expectations for commercially-viable robotaxis in the Asia-Pacific region have been extended by a year to 2029 since the previous survey in 2021. (see graphic).
The Financial Times reported that Waymo, part of the Alphabet group, refused to provide a specific number for how many people remotely monitor each of its self driving cars, which are being piloted in several US cities. However, the US group stressed that its fully autonomous cars were “responsible for making every driving decision on the road and do not rely on a human driver, either in the car or remotely”.