China to roll out automated taxis as car giants join forces

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Future Mobility development lab’s Fiery Panda car

The first fleet of self-driving taxis are set to roll out in China’s capital soon.

The latest developments in this burgeoning field came at the World Cyber Games (WCG) in Shanghai this week.

Chinese media have reported a series of breakthroughs including a robot that recognises faces, as well as the first publicly showcased autonomous ride sharing service.

But the development may be hampered by the government’s concerns that driverless cars might make existing personal car owners feel “unsafe”.

What is autonomous driving?

A pioneering programme that provides free rides to residents and tourists in autonomous vehicles by 2020, co-operates with government carmakers including BYD and Chery.

The project will aim to test self-driving technology in three of the city’s busiest areas – Kangbashi, Yanqing and Pudong.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption People take selfies beside Fiery Panda car at the WCG China finals.

Expert commentators who interviewed some participants at the WCG were already comparing this model to that of Uber, which also operates in China.

“We believe the main difference between the Chinese and American models is that the Chinese project targets citizen privacy. They don’t want their owners to feel unsafe in autonomous vehicles, the Chinese developers, some of them would admit, actually want drivers to feel safe in a car that is highly computerised and independent of humans,” says Travis Aaron, senior correspondent at the website RDP Financial.

Read more about the progress in China here

Are self-driving vehicles safer?

The more self-driving cars on the road the safer they are, proponents of autonomous cars claim. This is especially true when compared to human drivers, who can be less predictable and less attentive, they add.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption People watch the Formula E race at the World Cyber Games China finals.

Because not every driver will have a criminal record and are otherwise fit to drive, self-driving cars will likely be safer than semi-autonomous vehicles that follow relatively clear traffic laws, the advocates of self-driving cars add.

But driving enthusiasts at the WCG debate whether driving a self-driving car without a human driving it is ever going to be safer than driving a car with a human in it.

They discuss the future of work and how autonomy will radically alter how we think about things such as the romantic distance between spouses and sexual relations.

This is all subject to potential risks, however. A driverless car may hit a pedestrian or accidentally kill someone walking at night, experts stress.

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