BEIJING/SHANGHAI -- Chinese autonomous vehicle startup AutoX, backed by Alibaba Group, said Thursday it has started fully driverless vehicle testing in China with Pacifica minivans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
AutoX, which is also backed by Dongfeng Motor Group and SAIC Motor Corp., will have a fleet of 25 driverless vehicles in Shenzhen and five in other cities to test the technology.
Automakers and technology companies are investing billions of dollars in autonomous driving, aiming to take an early lead in what many consider the future of mobility.
Shenzhen-based AutoX has modified a number of vehicles from various manufacturers and tested them in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Wuhu.
The vehicles are operated by an in-vehicle autonomous driving system rather than remote control, with no drivers or people inside to ensure safety, AutoX said on its social media site.
Driving in a downtown area of Shenzhen at an average speed of 40 kilometers an hour (25 mph), the robotaxis can smoothly navigate complex road conditions typically seen in major Chinese cities such as vehicles parked roadside, suddenly appeared food delivery electric bicycles and roads being repaired at night time, it added.
In 2019, AutoX was permitted in the U.S. by the California Public Utilities Commission to roll out experimental robotaxi services in California.
To attract deep-pocketed partners, startups seek to test their technology with different production vehicles in a variety of cities.
In July, AutoX became the second company after Google affiliate Waymo to test a passenger vehicle on California's public roads without a safety driver in the front.
Unlike rivals WeRide and Baidu, which are testing their driverless vehicles in China but use a remote center to take control of their vehicles if needed, AutoX will not have a remote center.
"We think with current communications infrastructure, remote control brings safety issues as 5G signals are not stable yet and hackers might attack the vehicles," AutoX CEO Xiao Jianxiong told Reuters.
In China, companies such as Toyota-backed Pony.ai and Didi Chuxing are also testing autonomous cars, but all with one or two safety staff onboard. The people onboard take control in unexpected situations.
Yang Jian of Automotive News contributed to this report.