By  Sarthak Dogra

The race for a completely autonomous commercial taxi services has been heating up and a Chinese startup called WeRide is the latest player in it. If the latest announcement by the firm holds true, it will be launching its self-driven taxi services on the roads of China by July this year.

WeRide has chosen Guangzhou and Anqing as the two regions to initiate the service. Being the first one to do so in the country, the launch of the service will put it directly in competition with the likes of Uber and Waymo.

Though it will be lagging from the two competitors initially, simply due to the lack of data collected over a period of autonomous rides, WeRide won’t exactly be starting from scratch. The company has been conducting test rides of its autonomous taxi services since a year now with partners like Guangzhou Automobile Group and hence already has around 50 autonomous vehicles around the country.

The plan is to double the number of vehicles by the end of 2019. This will further be scaled to 500 by the end of next year and the proposed vehicle for the same would be Nissan’s electric passenger car, the Nissan Leaf.

WeRide will be starting with human drivers present in the taxis first, eventually phasing them out over a period of 2 years, once the 5G network is rolled out. The company will be introducing a smartphone app to book these cabs, which will then be able to carry the passengers to popular places in the region like the shopping malls. Prices will be similar to those of traditional taxi services as per the government regulations and the payments will be made digitally through apps and credit cards.

Interestingly, it has taken the company just two years to reach this stage. Founded by a team of 20 tech industry veterans in Silicon Valley, the startup moved its headquarters to China in late 2017 to focus more on the Chinese market. Reason? Chinese government has installed ample support systems for such developments, letting such autonomous vehicles drive almost anywhere at lower costs. This also results in more data collection for the company.

And that is why WeRide President Lu Qing is confident that they will beat Waymo to the race in a matter of around 6 months.

As for the technology used, WeRide is focusing on ‘level four’ autonomous driving, meaning that the car will only need a human driver in certain scenarios, such as heavy rains. Backing this up is surveillance system by SenseTime and GPU of Nvidia, one of its investors. The firm uses its own data center and has over 200 of its employees processing the collected data in Anqing.

WeRide chief believes that the firm is way ahead in the race than the rest of the Chinese players, simply because of the Silicon Valley workforce that they have. If this continues with the advancement of the firm in the autonomous ride sharing, it could very well be on its way for the long haul in a market that is expected to be the world’s largest for autonomous vehicles.

What would also help WeRide have an edge over its global counterparts is the leniency of Chinese government on the testing and practice of such autonomous vehicles, in contrast with the strict legislation in place in other countries like the US.

To read more about self driving cars, we recommend you to read this: People Vs. Self-Driving Cars