In June, AutoX was granted its license to operate commercial self-driving taxi services in the state of California.
AutoX is founded by Jianxiong Xiao, a Chinese computer science PhD who studied at MIT and taught at Princeton University. His startup is formally headquartered in the US, but parts of its operations are in Shenzhen, China.
More than 62 companies already have permits to test self-driving cars, but licenses to extend the tests for commercial rides with passengers on board are still rare.
Alphabet’s Waymo who was just granted this permission last week. San Fransisco Bay Area-based Zoox was the very first to receive the license from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last year in December.
Although it’s not the first nor only participant of the passenger-transport pilot program, AutoX is pretty confident it’ll be the first one to launch a self-driving taxi service commercially in Silicon Valley: “Not Google’s Waymo, not a GM Cruise, it’s going to be us,” the firm said, as quoted by the Chinese tech publication Silicon Valley Insight.
The others don’t seem to be in a big rush.
Zoox plans to launch a ride-hailing service by the end of 2020. Evans, a new CEO who took the helm in January, underscores safety for the customers as a very crucial factor. Building up both a product and service while raising capital are the company’s priorities, she told Bloomberg.
Waymo has been running self-driving taxis in Phoenix, Arizona for several months now. In California, it does not have any “timetable to launch” a commercial ride service. For now, its plan is rather exclusive; only employees and guests, with limitations to certain neighborhoods, will be given rides, according to The Verge.
California’s pilot program for a driverless taxis has a few requirements for the companies – they cannot charge the riders and a human safety driver must be behind the wheel at all times to assist in emergency situations.
AutoX seems to be determined to be the first one to conduct commercial trials in the heart of Silicon Valley. Its website is already inviting volunteers, residing in San Jose or Santa Clara, to join the so-called xTaxi Early Rider program. The participants get to ride one of its ten “L4-class” vehicles for free – all in exchange for feedback on their experience.
Level 4 autonomous vehicles are capable of driving themselves without any human input, but only in mapped locations and in known road conditions. They might be restricted from driving during severe weather. The last level of absolute automation, level 5, is a fully-driverless car requiring no human intervention. Due to safety regulations, true L5s on the road are still many years away, according to True Car.
AutoX vehicles, although without passengers, are already a known presence in the California Bay area.
Last year, the company launched a driverless grocery delivery program, referred to as Robo-Delivery on its website, allowing buyers to order fresh produce and have it delivered to their doorstep.
AutoX was founded in 2016 and has had quite a successful journey in the US since. In January this year, its China research and development headquarters were established in Shenzhen, together with a demonstration zone to test their L4 autonomous vehicles. Just a few months ago, the company received an investment of over USD 10 million from Chinese car manufacturer Dongfeng. The funding will be used to mass produce its L4 autonomous cars to meet the demands of the Chinese market, according to the Business Times.