QCraft's driverless autos ready to hit the road
Chinese autonomous driving startup QCraft is ratcheting up efforts to commercialize its cutting-edge technologies by teaming up with ride-sharing platform T3 to expand a robotaxi service and cooperating with auto chip company Horizon Robotics to offer other automakers self-driving solutions.
The partnerships are the latest examples of how driverless tech firms are scrambling to work with both consumer-facing companies and industrial chain partners as they are eager to accelerate commercialization.
Backed by leading Chinese tech companies Meitua-Dianping and ByteDance, the three-year-old Qcraft has already been testing a fleet of more than 100 autonomous mini-buses and sedans in around 10 major Chinese cities.
Yu Qian, CEO and founder of QCraft, said the autonomous driving industry is hitting a "golden inflection point of growth", with policies becoming increasingly clear and open, and technologies and algorithms becoming more powerful.
An inflection point refers to a time of significant change in a situation, also called a turning point.
Starting from July, Qcraft and T3 will begin offering rides to passengers using self-driving cars within a restricted area in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, a neighboring city of Shanghai, where the companies are already testing the vehicles.
Backed by State auto majors FAW, Dongfeng and Changan, T3 is a significant rival to Didi and completes over 3 million rides every day with operations in more than 80 Chinese cities, according to Li Jingfeng, vice-president of T3.
Meanwhile, Qcraft also announced plans to test its self-driving system for consumer cars beginning in the third quarter, collaborating with Chinese chipmaker Horizon Robotics.
Yu said the price of lidars used in self-driving cars has dropped significantly, and the auto-grade sensors and computing power are also developing rapidly, which are quite suitable for the large-scale application of pre-equipped self-driving systems on auto vehicles.
If computing power is compared to the oxygen concentration in the environment, and the magnitude of sensor data is compared to food, it means that the oxygen concentration in the environment becomes larger and the food in the environment is in abundance, which makes it very suitable for the development of high-level autonomous driving companies, Yu said.
The progress came after QCraft last year closed $100 million in Series A-plus fundraising led by YF Capital and Genesis Capital, with participation from DragonBall Capital and the existing investor IDG Capital.
Since its founding in 2019, QCraft, based in Suzhou, said it has set "Giga Factory" autonomous driving as a strategic objective to efficiently realize the commercialization and large-scale implementation of automatic driving technologies.
Last month, QCraft was one of the three companies along with Baidu Inc and AI pioneer SenseTime that obtained licenses from Beijing to have road tests of autonomous buses on the capital's selected roads.
The Beijing municipal working office of the high-level autonomous driving demonstration zone said it will allow road tests of its first batch of eight autonomous buses from the above three companies.
Driverless buses are in operation on some open roads in four countries－China, the United States, Finland and Germany－as of May 2021, according to a joint report released by QCraft, China Mobile and research firm CB Insights last year.
The length of autonomous bus routes in China reached 54.6 kilometers as of May 2021, 8.6 times the figure in the US, accounting for 85 percent of the world's length of driverless bus routes, the report said.
Jiang Xin, deputy general manager of the smart transportation product at China Mobile's Shanghai industrial research department, said with the integration of 5G, navigation satellites, AI, big data and other technologies, urban transportation is gradually becoming ultramodern, making its management via high-tech possible. Such a trend will become more evident in the future.
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