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DiDi Research Gains Approval for AV Tests on California Roads

by Nathan Eddy
DiDi Research America, the US division of Chinese technology firm Didi Chuxing, is the latest company granted permission to test self-driving vehicles on California roads, according to a filing with the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The company has been able to test autonomous vehicles in the Golden State as of May 10, according to the DMV's website.

DiDi officially opened its US-based research lab, located in Silicon Valley, in 2017, partnering with Udacity for a contest where teams could win $100,000 developing an automated safety and awareness processing stack (ASAPS) to increase driving safety for self-driving vehicles.

DiDi is looking to catch up to other Chinese tech firms including Baidu, which was granted a California testing permit in 2016 and has a research center in the state, as well as Alibaba, which is reportedly testing autonomous cars in China.

The company describes itself as a machine-learning systems development specialist that applies data to new mobility platforms and transportation technologies.

Other companies that have received permits from the California DMV to test AVs include Tesla, Volkswagen, Apple, Lyft and Ford, among nearly 50 other companies.

In April, Waymo, the driverless technology division of Google's parent company, Alphabet, applied to the DMV to test completely autonomous cars -- without safety drivers onboard -- on California roads.

The Waymo filing and Didi approval arrive as self-driving vehicle tests on public roads are coming under heightened scrutiny, following accidents involving pedestrians and other vehicles.

Uber, whose Chinese unit was bought out by Didi in 2016, suspended its self-driving tests earlier this year after one of its vehicles was involved in a fatal crash in Arizona.

Another accident in Arizona earlier this month involving a self-driving Waymo Pacifica minivan was determined to be the fault of the other driver, though that hasn't stopped some consumer groups from demanding a complete stop to AV testing on public roads.

Avery Ash, autonomous vehicle market strategist for Inrix, told The Connected Car accidents like the ones involving Waymo and Uber are a necessary reality check for those who have been cursorily following this topic and expected the technology to be a silver bullet for transportation challenges, he said.

Ash said the reality is that while AV technology is likely to be substantially safer than human drivers under similar conditions, these types of vehicles will still crash and lives will still be lost on the road -- the difference will be these failures should happen with much less regularity.

"The best way for the public to accept these vehicles is exposure," Ash noted. "Surveys consistently show that individuals who have used an AV or ADAS system are far more accepting of the technology."

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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