At this year’s Shanghai Auto Show–AutoShanghai (April 16 – 25, 2019), Pony.ai officially announces PonyPilot — a test project for a product-ready autonomous driving fleet within a geo-fenced area in Guangzhou, China. Since establishing its China HQ in Guangzhou in October 2017, Pony.ai has been consistently testing and expanding its autonomous vehicle operations in the city’s Nansha district. Pony.ai’s continuous testing has culminated in the launch of PonyPilot, making autonomous vehicle ride-hailing available to the public in China for the first time.
On this special milestone, Co-founder and CEO James Peng reflects on the company’s journey, “We could see the enormous AI wave on the horizon, and Tiancheng and I had always wanted to leverage this to create something that would truly deliver value to people’s lives everywhere.”
Thus, the vision of building the safest, most efficient, and most reliable self-driving technology was born. “L4 and L5 autonomous vehicle technology is extremely complex and challenging, but this is definitely not a reason to shy away from it. In fact, we are encouraged and invigorated by what we have learned. We are continually applying our learnings to solve some of the biggest tech challenges in our industry today,” adds Tiancheng Lou, Co-founder and CTO.
Pony.ai’s technology benefits from extensive testing in all three of its operational sites: Fremont (Silicon Valley), Beijing, and Guangzhou. In Guangzhou, PonyPilot covers roughly 50km2 (20 mi2) of the central Nansha district, including commercial plazas, office buildings, landmark hotels, libraries, recreational areas, and residential areas. In Fremont and Beijing, Pony.ai’s testing operations also cover roughly 50km2 (20 mi2) each.
The vehicles feature point-to-point dynamic routing, a significantly more challenging yet meaningful use-case that mirrors residents’ actual mobility patterns. Within a geo-fenced area, passengers are able to hail a vehicle at any predetermined point using a mobile app and travel to any other predetermined point within the area. From a technical perspective, this offering requires Pony.ai’s system to be comfortable covering a diverse set of route permutations between any two points, demanding much greater capability than that of a fixed route (e.g. shuttle) or other controlled application. Pony.ai’s vehicles continue to test in varied road environments, weather environments, traffic conditions, and corner cases, resulting in an ever-improving system stability.
Select clips from Pony.ai’s autonomous road testing in Guangzhou
The system’s stability improvements are also reflected in the overall rider experience. PonyPilot has been inviting select passengers to participate in the program since it began expanding its scope late last year. Based on feedback collected from multiple open demo days and PonyPilot rides, Pony.ai has also seen consistent improvement in overall ride comfort as the driving system continues to improve and optimize. Through PonyPilot, riders are also able to follow along with the vehicle’s location and decisions, gaining greater insight into autonomous vehicle technology. Currently, PonyPilot is available to Pony.ai employees and select affiliates by invitation only, but the company plans to consider expansion in the future.
The PonyPilot experience
Pony.ai’s ambitions do not end with passenger transportation–the company is also making strides in the autonomous freight industry. An internal team has been established to develop L4/L5 technology for trucking applications and in the matter of four months, the team has completed a full system retrofit and has commenced regular autonomous truck testing on public roads.
Pony.ai’s autonomous trucks