Didi developing own driverless taxis, plans to roll them out in 2025

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Chinese ride-hailing giant DiDi debuted the DiDi Neuron, a concept robotaxi. It has an arm in the back to pick up luggage or wake up sleeping passengers. DiDi is working with Chinese carmakers to develop its own autonomous taxis which it is aiming to put into service in 2025.

DiDi Global

DiDi Global on Thursday said it is developing its own self-driving taxis alongside Chinese carmakers and it plans to roll them out in 2025 on its ride-hailing service.

The Chinese giant’s autonomous driving unit also showed off a concept robotaxi, or driverless taxi, called the DiDi Neuron. It includes a robotic arm in the back that can pick up luggage or wake passengers up if they’ve fallen asleep.

DiDi said it is working alongside new energy vehicle automakers, which includes electric car manufacturers, to develop its robotaxi.

The Beijing-headquartered company also announced an autonomous trucking business named Kargobot, which it says has more than 100 driverless trucks in operation. DiDi said the focus is logistics and freight services.

DiDi also released two pieces of hardware focused on autonomous driving. The first, co-developed with Chinese technology firm Benewake, is called DiDi Beiyao Beta LiDAR. Lidar stands for Light Detection and Ranging technology. Lidar systems send out lasers that bounce back and can measure distance. Those returning beams are processed by an algorithm to create a three-dimensional representation of surrounding objects — a key technology for autonomous vehicles to understand their environment.

The second development is a computing platform for autonomous cars called Orca.

DiDi’s ambitious robotaxi target and new products highlight its desire to push beyond just ride-hailing into new areas, including the development of autonomous driving technology.

DiDi set up its autonomous driving unit in 2016 and spun it off into a wholly owned subsidiary in 2019. Since then, it has raised outside funding from backers including SoftBank. The company has been testing its robotaxis in various parts of China. Last month, it began commercial operations of its robotaxis in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

China has been supportive of the development of driverless cars. Governments in major cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou have allowed companies from Baidu to WeRide and Pony.ai to test their autonomous cars.

DiDi’s slew of announcements comes after nearly two years of intense scrutiny from the Chinese government, in further signs a regulatory crackdown could be easing.

The ride-hailing giant fell foul of regulators after it was listed in the U.S. in June 2021. Days after, Chinese authorities opened a cybersecurity probe into the company. DiDi’s app was eventually removed from Chinese app stores and it was ordered to stop signing up new users. Didi was delisted from the U.S. and is now seeking a Hong Kong public offering.

In January, DiDi’s apps returned to app stores in China, signaling the worst of the scrutiny was over. And last month, the company said it plans to expand its business to more cities in China.

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