A recent report from the South China Morning Post indicates that China has been spending generously in support of driverless vehicle technologies. These investments have taken place in nearly 300 cities and regions in the form of so-called “smart city” projects focused on cloud-based networking and artificial intelligence.
These networks link transportation, health care, public security and other industries via common operational platforms.This ability to seamlessly communicate allows for building a connected infrastructure for sharing all types of information more quickly. The end result, ideally, is a community that operates more efficiently in every facet.
Oh, and in the process of creating all these sensor and data-driven connections, an autonomous vehicle market worth more than $1 trillion dollars by 2040 is a nice byproduct.
In addition to the investments it has already made, China’s regulatory structure allows for making rapid decisions and providing developmental resources like a nine-mile Intelligent Vehicle Pilot Zone in Shanghai that uses cameras and radar systems to help intelligent vehicles navigate 30 simulated environments. Shanghai is expected to implement a 62-mile intelligent vehicle network within the next two years.
China’s version of Google, Baidu, has also announced a $1.5 billion driverless initiative called the Apollo Fund that will invest in 100 autonomous driving projects over the next three years.
So why is China pushing autonomous vehicles so aggressively?
First, China envisions autonomous vehicles as being electric vehicles. So, they’re really developing two key automotive technology markets at once with the hopes of becoming a go-to source for both.
EVs should translate to less imported oil – a key economic challenge for a country that continues to absorb more resources.
Finally, a growing middle class means more vehicles on the over-crowded roadways of Chinese cities. But if these vehicles are electric and autonomous, that translates to fewer emissions and cleaner air – a huge health concern for the country.
China’s pace will be interesting to gauge, as will their level of openness in working foreign automakers and developers.