Driving in China is never a fun experience. If you end up in a big city like Beijing, you could be stuck in huge traffic jams for hours on end. The world’s most populous country has chaotic intersections and unsafe drivers that make most Chinese roads hazardous to drive on.
Reports show that over 550 people are killed in crashes every day in China. That amounts to over 200,000 vehicular deaths annually. One of the issues is most residents don’t behave the rules of the road, or even regard it as a law. People think the traffic lights and signs are just there to be looked at, but not obeyed. This has left officials looking to technology to reduce traffic accidents and deaths.
Beijing and Shanghai have become Baidu’s main location for testing self-driving car technology. The tech giant is making the jump on vehicle automation in China. Most people around the world believe that China will be the first country to fully embrace autonomy in automobiles. Officials estimate that one day more than 99% of automobile deaths will be eliminated, thanks to autonomous technology.
This not only saves lives, but also saves money. Direct insurance experts believe that premiums could drop by 80% or more, once the technology goes mainstream and accident rates fall dramatically.
Testing Autonomous Automobiles in China is Challenging
While there’s no doubt that China is making headway with self-driving cars, that doesn’t necessarily make Chinese cities the best places to start, due to environmental concerns. To test these kinds of vehicles, you need an environment with very limited variables or a place where everyone follows the rules. Somewhere with 10-lane traffic jams and chaotic intersections would be the worst way to test this technology, because there is so much unpredictability. Most automated vehicle makers have been testing their machines in suburban or rural areas, not congested cities.
Google is Battling Baidu to Take the Lead in Self-Driving Vehicles
Google just started testing in Austin, Texas. They have plans to revolutionize transportation and safety with Waymo self-driving mini-vans. The technology firm has racked up more than 1.5 million miles since starting the automation program. Throughout all of that, they have only caused one crash. Google fully expects to see this technology in the customer’s hands by 2020. Baidu’s CEO Robin Li thinks Baidu will beat Google in the race to the market. He is pushing to have Baidu self-driving cars on the road before the start of the next decade. No doubt it will be a close race with billions on the line.
Baidu launched its initial program in China over three years ago. In December, they announced that a successful prototype drove 18.6 meters through Beijing. While Baidu will not reveal much about the entire scope of its program. It hasn’t reported on its total miles tested, or crashes. Baidu still aims to have fully autonomous cars in commercial retail by 2019.
Of course, building the cars is the easy part. The challenge is mastering the autonomous technology that often proves difficult in real-world driving situations. Programming machines to navigate public roads is already difficult enough, when interacting with humans who obey the rules. It’s exponentially more difficult to program variables when drivers and pedestrians break the rules.
Chinese Car Manufacturer Byton is Entering the Self-Driving Market
Another Chinese electric car-maker, Byton, has begun testing its new autonomous cars in China as well. They introduced their vehicle recently at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, demonstrating its advanced electronics and self-driving capabilities. They have already begun real-world tests, driving their prototype on the streets of Nanjing China.
They’re also performing tests on private delivery, and they want to start testing cold weather capabilities in the near future as well. Unlike most electric car startups in the new and competitive field, Byton plans to sell their luxury SUV, the M-Byte, for just $45,000. Most electric cars are priced much higher. This might give the company a big advantage over Baidu and Google.
Byton Vehicles will Have More High-End Features
Not only are Byton self-driving electric vehicles more affordable, but it comes with two different battery pack options. A 71-kwh battery has 249 miles of range, or a 91-kwh battery comes with 323 miles and much higher horsepower. It comes with a curved digital dashboard screen and it provides all instrumentation and information to the passenger. It even has the latest entertainment options for the passengers at no additional cost.
This digital display will come with Amazon Alexa, facial recognition instead of a car key and also voice and language features. It’s classified as a car with Level 3 self-driving capabilities, giving it the ability to drive in almost any situations. However, the driver may need to take over when the car goes into alarm mode. That means no sleeping behind the wheel.
The company is ready to release another model soon, the K-Byte sedan, following the M-Byte. The M-Byte is scheduled to be released in China in 2019, with international sales coming by 2020.
Chinese Self Driving Electric Cars Will Reduce Pollution
China’s cities are tired of conventional cars. The pollution, emissions, congestion, and crashes they cause are just not worth it. The Chinese people are ready to embrace more efficient and safer, self-driving vehicles for the future.
The next two years will be a race of several tech giants and bragging rights to be the world’s first self-driving commercial production vehicle. While there is currently no clear winner, one thing is for sure, transportation will change in the next five years more than it has in the past 50 years.