Didi Chuxing, China's leading car-hailing platform, has made its autonomous driving unit into an independent company to take advantage of the country's driverless vehicle market, which is expected to be worth billions of dollars.
DiDi's CTO Zhang Bo will head the new autonomous driving company. The company will integrate the resources and technological advantages of DiDi's platform into the new standalone company to further drive the development of its self-driving capabilities, the company announced this week, according to a Chinese media report.
Established in 2016, DiDi's autonomous driving unit, which has around 200 employees, has been developing and testing autonomous driving vehicles in China and the United States. Its R&D team has been covering various areas such as HD mapping, perception, and behavior prediction.
Didi's latest move is an attempt to beef up its autonomous driving capabilities business as China, the world's largest automobile market, is forecast to become a major market for the future self-driving technology.
By 2020, China is expected to become a 100 billion yuan ($14.2 billion) market for intelligent connected cars, Miao Wei, Minister of Industry and Information Technology, said at a conference last year.
The Chinese services giant's decision to spin off its autonomous driving unit highly resembles Google's decision to make its self-driving technology company, Waymo, a standalone subsidiary back in December 2016. Waymo was founded in 2010.
Didi, which bought Uber's China arm in 2016, is currently one of the highest valued tech unicorns in the world, with a variety of businesses including car-hailing, bike-sharing, car rental, and food delivery services, according to the company's website. It also claims that it serves 550 million users and provides 10 billion passenger trips each year.
With its valuation exceeding $50 billion, the Chinese company has also partnered with a number of global players, including Grab, Lyft, Ola, and 99 to create a global ride-hailing network that provides services in more than 1,000 cities.
The move expands the service collaboration agreement that was previously agreed to by the two companies.
Didi Chuxing's huge loss, reaching almost 11 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) last year, was mostly because of subsidies given to drivers in spite of its monopoly in the market.
Didi Chuxing's enhanced safety measures follow the suspension of its Hitch ride-sharing service in late August due to a brutal case in China where a female passenger was raped and killed by her driver in a Hitch ride.
Comparing AI in China and the US (TechRepublic)
Tonya Hall sits down with Kai-Fu Lee, CEO of Sinovation Ventures, to talk about what artificial intelligence can and can't do.