Chinese self-driving startup QCraft, along with China Mobile and research firm CB Insights, published a report on the performance of China’s first driverless bus at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show, revealing that the country has more miles of unmanned buses than any other nation.
Driverless buses are currently in operation on open roads in four countries – China, the US, Finland and Germany, according to the report. The length of autonomous bus routes in China has reached 54.6 kilometers, 8.6 times as long as those in the US, accounting for 85% of the world’s length of driverless bus routes.
Since October 2020, the Longzhou One, the autonomous minibus using QCraft’s technology, has breezed through its trials on open roads in Suzhou, Shenzhen and Wuhan. It is equipped with GPS, four cameras, two laser sensors and five radar sensors to navigate predetermined routes. A combination of artificial intelligence technology and cameras enables it to detect and avoid obstacles on the road, including vehicles, pedestrians and animals.
As processing all of the data requires cloud computing and a high-speed wireless connection, QCraft has entered into a partnership with China Mobile. The telecom company provides a high-speed 5G network and smart connected devices, allowing the driverless bus to receive information regarding traffic and road conditions.
The battery-powered vehicle travels at a speed of no more than 50 kilometers per hour. Only 18 passengers can fit inside.
Qian Yu, the co-founder of QCraft, said that the Longzhou One achieves “Level 4” automation, meaning routes are chosen by humans but there is no one behind the wheel and the vehicle can avoid obstacles on its own. Tesla’s Autopilot system is considered Level 2, which means the car can do the steering and acceleration, but the driver must still be ready to take the wheel.
In Suzhou, where the Longzhou One offers free services to the city’s commuters, more than 11,000 passengers have taken a ride around Xiangcheng District in the driverless vehicle as of March 31, with an average daily passenger count of about 116, said the report.
In a policy initiative released in December 2020, the Ministry of Transport pointed out that public transport in China should grow increasingly autonomous and smart, emphasizing the need to encourage technology developers to set up more demonstration sites across the country.
It is estimated that China will increase the number of driverless bus routes to over 60 by 2022, with a total length exceeding 300 kilometers, according to the report.
Founded in 2019 by executives who used to work at autonomous-driving pioneers including Tesla, Waybo and Uber, QCraft is backed by IDG Capital and Lenovo Capital. It employs large-scale intelligent simulation systems and a self-learning framework for decision making and planning, reducing the costs of researching and developing autonomous-driving technologies and boosting efficiency, according to the company. QCraft plans to have at least 100 autonomous buses on open roads in China by the end of this year.