Pony.ai has announced it has been granted a taxi licence in China, a first for an autonomous driving company in the Middle Kingdom.
The permit will allow Pony.ai to operate 100 autonomous vehicles as traditional taxis in Nansha, Guangzhou, from 8.30am to 10.30pm, with fares charged according to the city's standard taxi prices. Passengers will be able to hail rides and pay for the service through the PonyPilot+ app.
The robotaxis will operate with a "safety driver" behind the wheel, but the company expects to remove the driver over the short to intermediate time frame, while also gradually expanding the scale and scope of the service to other parts of Guangzhou.
"Being China's first autonomous vehicle company to receive a taxi license is a testament to Pony.ai's technological strength and ability to operate robotaxi services," Pony.ai co-founder and CEO James Peng said.
"We will expand the scale of our services, provide quality travel experiences to the public in Guangzhou, create an industry benchmark for robotaxi services and continue to lead the commercialization of robotaxis and robotrucks."
To qualify for the licence, according to the company, it had to pass "stringent safety and other multifaceted vehicle qualification tests", including having at least 24 months of autonomous driving tests in China and other countries, at least one million kilometres of testing mileage, at least 200,000 kilometres of autonomous driving testing within Guangzhou's designated testing area, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents.
This latest permit follows Pony.ai, which is backed by Toyota, being granted a robotaxi fee-charging licence in Beijing in November last year.
With these two licences, Pony.ai said it plans to expand its operations to two other major cities in China next year. The company added it is also running tests in California.