Pony.ai, the robotaxi startup that started in Silicon Valley, recently announced that they have started testing driverless vehicles on public roads in California.
The startup that currently operates in China and the United States plans to launch a commercial service there in 2022.
They have started testing driverless vehicles daily on public roads in Fremont and Milpitas, California. Besides, they have started testing their driverless vehicles in Guangzhou, China.
This summer, the startup will also plan to resume a rideshare service to the public in Irvine. They will be using AVs with a human safety driver to roll out the fully driverless services by 2022.
James Peng, CEO and co-founder of Pony.ai, said “Going completely driverless is key to achieving full autonomy and an indispensable catalyst to realizing our ambitious vision.”
Pony.ai still has some regulatory hurdles such as deployment permits to clear before they can operate commercially. The company’s driverless testing milestone comes just a month after they were issued a permit to test a fleet of six driverless vehicles.
In total 55 companies have active permits to test autonomous vehicles. However, receiving permission for driverless vehicles is less common.
Pony has become the eighth company to be issued a driverless testing permit after China’s AutoX, Baidu, and WeRide, and U. S’s Cruise, Nuro, Waymo, and Zoox.
Since 2017, Pony.ai was allowed to test autonomous vehicles. Previously, they had tested ridesharing in Fremont and Irvine, California.
In 2019, Pony.ai partnered with autonomous Hyundai Kona and Via’s ride-hailing platform for BotRide, the Robotaxi service. BotRide began shuttling customers on public roads but it wasn’t a driverless service, as there was a human safety driver at all times. The BotRide pilot concluded in January 2020.
Then the company started operating PonyPilot in the Irvine area which is a public robotaxi service. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they shifted from shuttling people to packages and partnered with Yamibuy to provide an autonomous last-mile delivery service.
“The delivery service was launched to provide additional capacity to address the surge of online orders triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Pony.ai.
As the pandemic eases, Pony is preparing to launch its commercial Robotaxi service. The company has several partnerships or collaborations with automakers and suppliers and more than $1 billion in funding. They say as of last November, their valuation had reached $5.3 billion following a fresh $267 million in funding.