China's ride-hailing company DiDi Global will introduce the first mass-produced robotaxis on its platform from 2025, as it seeks to boost the adoption of autonomous vehicles on a large scale.
The robotaxis are being produced by DiDi Autonomous Driving, the self-driving technology division of the Beijing-based company, it said in a statement on Thursday.
It is the result of a collaboration with new energy vehicle manufacturers in areas including vehicle platform selection, cockpit and intelligent driving system development, it said.
The decision to introduce the vehicles is backed by DiDi’s "extensive experience in shared mobility services and cutting-edge technology", said Zhang Bo, chief executive of DiDi Autonomous Driving and chief technology officer of DiDi Global.
“We believe the introduction of a mixed dispatching system that combines autonomous and traditional vehicles within a shared mobility network is the future of transportation efficiency,” he said.
L4 refers to the second-highest of the six levels of vehicle autonomy, which run from 0 to 5, in which vehicles do not require human intervention under most circumstances. Level 5, the highest, requires no human attention and vehicles under this status may not even have steering wheels or pedals.
Car manufacturers are racing to bring self-driving autonomous vehicles (AVs) on to the roads as part of the next generation of transport.
The advanced computers that control AVs allow for a smoother driving experience, with speed and acceleration under control, which could also result in more efficient use of fuel, according to environmental news and data platform Earth.org.
The value of the global autonomous vehicle market is forecast to exceed $1.8 trillion by 2030, from about $94.4 billion in 2021, growing at a compound annual rate of almost 39 per cent, latest data from Precedence Research indicates.
This is close to an earlier estimate from analysts at Swiss bank UBS that the market could be worth about $2 trillion a year by 2030.
However, concerns have also been raised about the safety of AVs, with vehicles developed by companies such as Tesla Motors, the world's biggest electric vehicle maker, and Google involved in accidents, some of which have been fatal.
DiDi, however, has "prioritised safety" since its fleet of more than 200 robotaxis was deployed for its on-demand service in Shanghai in 2020, it said.
“DiDi's Robotaxi service has a robust safety record and has been safely operating for 1,020 consecutive days,” said Meng Xing, chief operating officer of DiDi Autonomous Driving.
“In order to meet users’ diverse and evolving mobility demands now and in the future, we will continue to optimise our robotaxi service by continuing to improve rider experience.”
DiDi Autonomous Driving also unveiled its first concept robotaxi, the DiDi Neuron, which features an in-vehicle robotic arm that can pick up luggage, wake passengers up and retrieve items from throughout the cabin, as well as its new autonomous truck business, Kargobot.
DiDi Global, which was founded in 2012, operates in more than a dozen countries. Among its most notable backers are China's Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group, Japan's SoftBank, US ride-hailing company Uber Technologies and Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Holding.
It listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2021 before delisting the following year over an investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices.