AutoX, a self-driving car technology company, announced a partnership with Fiat Chrysler (FCA) to start rolling out what they say is the first “hardware ready” RoboTaxi for the Asia market. The RoboTaxi was designed to have the hardware quality and safety design to go beyond testing with humans as backup drivers, capable of supporting a completely driverless taxi service without the need of a safety driver in Asia’s driving conditions. Waymo is currently the only company operating completely driverless robotaxi service in the Phoenix area, and it is also partnered with Fiat Chrysler. AutoX’s RoboTaxi is reportedly capable of achieving the same level of autonomy as Waymo's, but RoboTaxi is designed for Asian markets.

AutoX is exhibiting its Chrysler Pacifica from FCA, which is the same vehicle platform used for Waymo’s driverless deployment of robotaxis. The vehicle is integrated with an array of advanced sensors in the rooftop built onto the vehicle. The hybrid vehicle now has 360° of solid-state LiDAR sensors, along with numerous high-definition cameras, blind spot LiDAR sensors, and radar sensors.  

“Achieving completely driverless operation needs a very reliable vehicle platform with full redundancy of the vehicle’s drive-by-wire system,” said AutoX CEO Jianxiong Xiao. “This level of redundancy is still new and rare in the auto industry. The Chrysler Pacifica platform has proven trustworthy for driverless deployment.”

AutoX is aiming for the adoption of automotive grade sensors, including solid state LiDAR sensors. There are two launching partners of AutoX to support this effort: Robosense and DJI. The set of solid-state LiDAR used by the new AutoX RoboTaxi are a combination of the Robosense M1 series solid-state LiDAR and DJI's Horizon and Tele solid-state LiDAR series. Robosense is a LiDAR producer, which produces the automotive grade MEMS-based LiDAR M1. DJI is a manufacturer of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, which is now expanded to the LiDAR market.

The hybrid minivan is also equipped with AutoX’s first Level-4 vehicle control unit, called XCU. XCU powers and integrates the entire self-driving stacks and sensors with the vehicle, including automotive-grade cameras, radars, and LiDARs. XCU was designed for highly complex scenarios in urban driving environment in China, meaning faster processing speed and higher computation capability.

According to the company, driving in urban environments in China requires smarter AI (artificial intelligence) and a more powerful vehicle control unit.

“There are a lot more cars, pedestrians, bikers, scooters, and moving objects on the street, many of which are not following the traffic rules. Due to the fast development speeds in China, construction and reconstruction can happen overnight. The streets can look completely different in the morning, afternoon, and at night. This requires our system to process faster and extremely accurate to recognize and track each object to guarantee safety,” said Zhuo Li, AutoX COO.

Earlier in 2019, the company has been offering public rides in downtown Shenzhen, China, going through crowded and sometimes chaotic traffic. Shenzhen is China’s tech center, with what the company says has the highest population density among all cities in the country. In September 2019, the City of Shanghai officially partnered with AutoX to launch 100 RoboTaxis, aiming to build the largest RoboTaxi pilot zone in China. AutoX has been granted autonomous driving permits in three large cities in China: Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

“In 2019, we have managed to build a large self-driving RoboTaxi fleet for testing and commercial pilot. The next challenge is to remove the safety driver and go truly driverless. Getting hardware ready is a crucial step towards this goal,” said AutoX CEO Xiao.

A fleet of the AutoX "hardware ready" RoboTaxis is expected to be in service to the public in China in early 2020. Passengers will be able to call a RoboTaxi using WeChat mini-program and other popular apps in China.

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