Chinese government drafts policies for autonomous vehicles
The Chinese government has begun to show strong support for autonomous driving vehicle technology as it begins to fast-track the sector in China. The overall aim is for China to showcase to the world that it is a leading player in new technology, and a promoter of things cleaner and greener. And the new focus is self-driving vehicles.
Now China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is working on a draft bill for autonomous driving. The mandate from the central government is that 50% of all new vehicles sold in China by 2020 must have partial or full autonomous functions, state media reports quoting the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
The new draft policy by the MIIT is to be released soon, and will be followed by local provincial and city government announcing policies to enhance and fast-track the segment. "The central government is eager to do it," Wu Zhixin, vice-president of the China Automotive Technology & Research Center, told China Daily in an interview last week. "The Beijing city government has released one and the central government will promulgate that before any local government will follow Beijing's example."
In December 2017 the municipal government of Beijing was the first to release policies for self-driving vehicles on the city’s roads. Under the new program announced on 18 December 2017 the local government stated that:
- Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport will issue "registered entities in China" with rights for self-driving on Beijing roads.
- The vehicle must be able to switch between self-driving and conventional modes.
- The vehicle must be equipped with sensors and cameras such that driving behaviour can be monitored.
- The vehicle must be equipped with sensors and cameras such that the position of the vehicle can be monitored.
- The vehicle must pass a technical assessment at a training ground prior to being given permission for use on "open roads".
- "Open roads" will have designated times and only designated roads for use for test drives of self-driving cars.
- The vehicle must have a human driver, and this driver will be held responsible if any accidents occur.
However the stipulations include that the entities that gain the rights to use the self-driving vehicles on Beijing’s roads must first pass tests in a specified "closed zone" testing site, and then once gaining the rights can only test five vehicles with self-driving technologies at a time. "It is like we obtain our driving licenses. We must pass tests in closed zones before we are allowed to hit the road," Wu Zhixin, vice-president of the China Automotive Technology & Research Center (CATARC), told the China Daily.
The new rules, which will soon be released by the Central government, are seen as a broad move to push the mass use of self-driving technologies, and will affect public roads in cities across China.
"The first draft has already been reviewed by experts from the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Public Security and other institutions, which will play an important part in ensuring safe road tests of such vehicles," the China Daily reports quoting Gong Zheng of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, affiliated with the MIIT.
In addition to detailing testing requirements for drivers, cars and companies, the regulations will also elaborate on what road sections are suitable for such tests and how they should be reconstructed to build better testing environments for autonomous vehicles, Gong added.
Outlook and implications
The Chinese government aims for being a leading world cyber power by 2035 and the autonomous vehicle segment is a core part of this strategy, with artificial intelligence (AI) technology firmly embedded in the mass production of vehicles by then.
"China will endeavor to basically build itself into a strong cyber power by 2035 to join the world's top rank in cyberspace," said Miao Wei, Minister of Industry and Information Technology. To jump-start this, the government has begun to invest significantly in the sector with state media China Daily quoting CNY10.24 billion (USD1.56 billion) having been invested in AI in the first nine months of 2017.
On 3 January 2018 the Chinese authorities announced a major development zone for AI technologies in Beijing, according to reports from Xinhua. The new 54.87-hectare technology park will be located in the Mengtougou suburban district of Beijing with an estimated investment tag of CNY13.8 billion; 400 different AI firms will reside in the complex, and it will be ready in five years’ time.
In the same week, the Beijing Municipal Transport Commission announced a new vehicle testing zone in the Beijing suburb town of Yizhuang for self-driving vehicles. Caixin Global reports an official from the commission stating, "The government will promote the development of autonomous driving technology by updating road facilities — such as signaling and marking — to enable car and road synergy," at the new exclusive autonomous vehicle testing zone.
Meanwhile developers of the technology are forging agreements with local city governments to create zones to test their technology. For example, Baidu has signed an alliance with the provinicial government of Hebei to create an AI smart city in Xiongan In 2016 French automaker Renault signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Wuhan Caidian Ecological Development Group and its Chinese joint venture, Dongfeng Renault Automotive Company, to join forces to build an autonomous driving zone in Wuhan, Hubei province.
As China pushes its new mandate for all new vehicles to have partial of full autonomous driving capabilities as soon as 2020, the realistic rationale of this is that majority of the vehicles will only have lower level autonomous functions then.
The Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) created an outline of 6 levels of Autonomous driving capabilities in vehicles, which is generally followed globally.
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