Chinese car brands hit accelerator on road tests for level three autonomous driving tech

Tesla left out due to HD mapping roadblock

China has given the go-ahead to nine local car brands to start testing level three autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Applications for the trials opened in November last year. Among the nine brands accepted are BYD and Nio, as well as government-run firms including Changan Automobile and SAIC, per a statement from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, reports Reuters. Taxi companies with autonomous cars will also be participating.

Self-driving car technology is generally divided into five levels, with level one being features like cruise control and level five being completely autonomous driving with no human assistance required. Currently, many Chinese car makers sell vehicles with level two self-driving, but drivers are required to keep their hands on the wheel. By contrast, level three self-driving cars allow drivers to take their hands off.

However, there still needs to be someone in the driver's seat in a level three car, which isn't quite to the point of being able to do everything on its own without getting into trouble.

Notably excluded from the level three trials is Tesla, which doesn't offer level two self-driving in China yet. Chinese regulations require self-driving cars to use HD mapping, a tool that Tesla and CEO Elon Musk have said is unnecessary. However, the American electric vehicle manufacturer signed a deal with Baidu last month to gain access to HD maps, enabling the deployment of the company's level two Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology to Chinese drivers.

The ministry said the trials will help bring self-driving cars to market, including not only those using level three tech but also future models with even more cutting-edge capabilities.

China has had a relatively slow start when it comes to self-driving cars. For some time, American companies like Zoox and Waymo have operated their vehicles at level three and even level four autonomy, while China is only just getting started with level three.

However the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side as both Zoox and Waymo have caught scrutiny from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The federal agency is investigating Zoox for two collisions, both of which involved motorcycles, and Waymo is under the microscope for allegedly violating traffic laws in 22 incidents, only some of which were reported by Waymo itself. ®

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