<Editor's Pick> Attention self-driving industry, here comes Didi robotaxi.

There has been news released about self-driving cars, but people have rarely seen its true colors. People didn't expect its big move - the Didi self-driving car is open to the public for test rides.

Self-driving has also been densely popping up for some time now, and if you sum it up, it can be roughly divided into four factions: car companies, technology companies (or the self-driving business section of large companies), and online ride-hailing platforms. The mapping software has some degree of aggregation, but there is no actual online ride-hailing business.

Self-driving is an extremely cash-burning business, and a large portion of foreign self-driving startups are unsustainable due to lack of funding. As a result, China's self-driving ecosystem also has cooperation to overcome shortcomings, such as Baidu and Hongqi's cooperation in the mass production of L4-class self-driving vehicles, to mutually promote the formation of the automated driving ecosystem.

In fact, a simple analysis of all these factions would show the differences in their ways of dealing with self-driving cars. Of the three main factions, the one most closely tied to the actual business is the online ride-hailing platform, namely Didi. The development of Robotaxi (self-driving taxi) shows us the determination of Didi, and the logic behind this matter, which is closely tied to Didi's business.


The importance of data

The first trial run of Didi's robotaxi took place in Jiading Shanghai, less than a year after Didi obtained a self-driving road test license in Shanghai. It is reported that the scope of the self-driving test is limited to the open test roads, but the route will pass through core areas such as auto convention centers, office districts, subway stations, and hotels. Users can choose the start and endpoints within the open road through the app and experience the self-driving service for free.

Beijing, 1,300 kilometers away from Shanghai, is the "headquarters" of self-driving operations. Here, the researchers can see how all the robotaxis are operating and how congested the roads are, as well as how robotaxi will receive dispatches based on real-time conditions. For example, big data already has a basic grasp of predicting the supply and demand of ride-hailing in 15 minutes. If some areas have long queues due to the weather, self-driving vehicles can rush to replenish the demand as quickly as possible.

Also if the robotaxi doesn't have a list, it will go to a place where a demand may arise and wait. In this way, robotaxis will not only reduce unloaded ratio, but also reduce congestion. The intelligent dispatching is an advantage of the robotaxis, according to the DDT. At the same time, in the operation of robotaxis, Didi set up China's first self-driving safety escort center, which can monitor vehicles and road conditions in real-time, and when the vehicle faces complex situations, it can give instructions to assist to solve the problem of remote assistance that may arise in future self-driving operations.

It all stems from the advantage of Didi in the user's usage scenario and data. During the live streaming, the company revealed that it has reached 100 billion kilometers on its network and knew about in the process of serving users where people are using the app the most. Big data capabilities have given Didi a lot of benefits in terms of artificial intelligence.

"We believe that eventually AI technology will dramatically improve driving safety and efficiency. The greatest strengths of Didi are its scenarios and data and its determination to invest in self-driving technology." said Cheng Wei, founder and CEO of Didi Chuxing. Only established in 2016, though not too early in the industry, Didi's self-driving team has been closely integrated with online ride-hailing and other businesses, giving a glimpse of the possibility of a rapid landing of self-driving.


Making self-driving an everyday occurrence

Getting the vehicle upgraded to self-driving is a technical matter. And combining self-driving with online ride-hailing requires pushing the technology out to everyone, in a way even more difficult to solve than the technology.

Didi has done a pretty good job of this, both in terms of the "headquarters" mentioned above and the details created inside and outside the car, which feels emphasis more on online ride-hailing than self-driving. First of all, Didi is the software that people use to hail a cab on a daily basis, and self-driving is only a part of it, alongside other businesses. The ordering process is exactly the same as hailing a car and the user does not have to accept a new system of operation.

In terms of the vehicle itself, Didi used Volvo XC60, which is loaded with a high beam and two low beam radars on the roof, as well as seven cameras, for a total of more than twenty sensors across the vehicle. It was raining heavily in Shanghai at the time of the live-streaming, as the rain is blocking the radar and the cameras, thus affecting the driving of the vehicles a little. The safety officer also took over the vehicle once or twice as other vehicles approached, but the overall effect was smooth.

If you compare it to the regular online ride-hailing experience, Didi's self-driving car is a bit more complicated. First-time riders will need to sign a notification form and will need to scan the QR code to confirm when entering the vehicle and then tap the "Smart Ride" button on the screen to start.

Afterwards, the experience is no different from that of an online ride-hailing, and users can also see the pedestrians or vehicles around them on the screen, as well as the status of traffic lights at intersections - an effect of car-road synergy. According to Didi, this is its own self-developed vehicle-road collaboration solution that shares road information in real-time to automated test vehicles from different companies in the region, eliminating driving blind spots.

When passengers get off the vehicle at their destination, the vehicle will check the surrounding area of a few meters, and the screen will simultaneously display and voice the presence of pedestrians and vehicles in the area, making it convenient for passengers to get off the vehicle safely.

Not only does an self-driving car ensure a consistent experience with regular online ride-hailing, but it also uses technology to enhance passenger's safety, so it's evident that Didi has done a lot to make the experience complete.

Explaining the adoption of a mix of self-driving and regular online dispatching, Zhang Bo, CEO of Didi self-driving said On the one hand, it makes up for the fact that self-driving can only be used in certain areas, and on the other hand, it makes the current stage of self-driving not only a novel experience, but also a practical supplement to people's daily travel.

Integrating with current business and becoming a supplement to everyday travel, It looks like Didi may have to get real on self-driving.

This is an article from WeChat official accounts Geek Park(ID: geekpark), written by Zhao Zixiao, translated by Linda Yang.