There’s a debate raging over the future of transportation. Will autonomous cars and trucks dominate the roads? Will companies flock to rural communities and re-establish telephone poles as the new railroads? These are exactly the questions on which a Chinese startup is hoping to thrive.
This May, a new company is scheduled to launch in Shanghai that has created a fleet of self-driving robotaxis. Predictably called Lingjia, the express will traverse downtown city streets, offering just 50 km/h (about 32 mph) ride speed. Lingjia is owned by 5114 Group, which debuted over the Internet about a month ago. The CEO is Wei Xue, a former industrial engineer who built a startup specializing in natural gas engine technology for trucks and buses.
Wei says he created 5114 Group because he was worried that the robotics industry was too concentrated in a few organizations that could distort the market. Instead, the company wants to focus on building autonomous vehicles to directly compete with ride-hailing services. After accumulating 400,000 subscribers, the company hopes to turn the Lingjia into a hub for innovation and innovation. “We’re not satisfied with the current market direction,” Wei says.
Although bike-sharing companies have reigned as major transportation services in China, Wei believes the market will change as people see the value of autonomous vehicles. In 2016, as similar areas started to see efforts in autonomous car technology, Wei witnessed a surge in investment in electric-vehicle production—he launched his electric vehicle company, Rinspeed, in 2014.
Self-driving technology will allow Lingjia to offer a low-cost service but still offers entertainment. Wei said the cars will broadcast real-time traffic data to passengers. This new data will help autonomous cars better navigate cities. Wei, a college friend, hopes to land a partnership with Apple, Google, and Tesla in a future version of the company. And after all, he says, it’s China that’s setting the trend. “In China, the most interesting phase of innovation is in electric vehicle technology,” Wei says.
Below, watch a video of the driving demo:
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