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The Chinese Didi Chuxing launches a robot taxi experiment in Shanghai

Didi Chuxing launches a self-driving autopilot in Shanghai, the Chinese rising giant announced.

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The Shanghai local government recently granted Didi a license to test its autonomous vehicles on the public road in the Jiading District of Shanghai, although the company says it plans to expand beyond that district from 2021, according to Reuters. The company says it will use "30 different models of L4 autonomous vehicles". (L4 means level 4 on the autonomy scale of the Society of Automotive Engineers, meaning the vehicle can operate within a certain geographical area without human intervention.)

Customers can use the Didi app to call up an autonomous vehicle to collect them. But the cars & # 39; s probably contain a human driver behind the wheel. All self-driving journeys are free. "Given the complex traffic and road conditions in the mega city, Didi will start the program with a mixed shipping model that combines both autonomous vehicles and vehicles with human control for the duration of the pilot robo-taxi project," the company says.

Didi has had a very interesting few years to say the least. The company first crossed the radars of many people in 2016 when Apple announced it had invested a striking $ 1 billion in the ride-hail service. At the time, Didi was locked up in fierce competition with Uber for the rapidly growing hail market in China. It was around that time that Didi began to poach Silicon Valley technicians to come and work for his budding self-driving program.

In the end, the fight became too expensive for Uber, who reportedly burned $ 1 billion a year to compete with Didi. In August 2016, then Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said he would sell Uber's Chinese company to Didi for a 17.7 percent stake in Didi and a seat on the company's board of directors. In return Didi invested $ 1 billion in Uber.

Didi has also invested in many of Uber's rivals, including Lyft, India's Ola, Grab with headquarters in Singapore, Taxify in Estonia, Careem in the Middle East (which was recently taken over by Uber) and the 99 from Brazil. Last year Didi expanded to Mexico, intensifying global rivalry with Uber.