China’s driverless cars are coming for passengers in the United States.
AutoX and Pony.ai just became the first Chinese companies allowed to offer self-driving robotaxis in the state of California, according to notices posted on the website of the California Public Utilities Commission this week.
Started in 2016 by Princeton University professor Jianxiong Xiao, called “Professor X”by his students, AutoX is now one of China’s most well-funded autonomous driving startups alongside Pony.ai, which was co-founded in 2016 by two former executives at Baidu’s self-driving department.
AutoX said in January that it was in talks with investors to raise a lofty $100 million. Pony.ai had banked at least $214 million in funding as of April.
While more than 62 companies hold the permits to test autonomous vehicles in California, very few are actually allowed to transport people in those cars.
Zoox passed a new milestone when it received the first green light to provide robotaxi services in the state six months ago. Now AutoX and Pony.ai have joined the exclusive club, bringing the number of participants in the pilot program to three.
There are a few catches though. The type of permission granted to the three companies is for the “Drivered AV Passenger Service,” which forbids companies to charge passengers for test rides and requires a safety driver behind the wheel.
No entity has so far been permitted to run real driverless passenger service in California, a sign that regulators aren’t quite ready to let tech companies transport the public without human oversight.
AutoX, which is already using self-driving vehicles to deliver groceries in San Jose, is getting a headstart by introducing California’s first robotaxi service.