Pony.ai Launches Autonomous Vehicle Ride Sharing Fleet in China
Announces Strategic Partnership with Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC Group)
Earlier last month, Pony.ai held a special event in China during which it launched its autonomous ride-sharing fleet, becoming the first company to offer self-driving car rides on city roads to the general public in China.
Event attendees were able to experience Pony.ai’s fully self-driving cars on a 2.8km route (roughly 1.7 miles). The event took place on Feb. 2nd in downtown Nansha, Guangzhou, where the company has recently established its Chinaheadquarters. In addition to trial rides, the event also consisted of a signing ceremony that solidified a strategic partnership between the young company and China’s second-largest carmaker, Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC Group).
Since Pony.ai established its presence in Nansha, the company’s autonomous cars have already undergone rigorous road tests covering thousands of kilometers in distance. Within the span of three short months, Pony.ai’s autonomous driving platform has already learned to deal with unique road scenarios such as congested city streets, inclement weather, and unexpected road behavior more typical of an urban Chinese driving environment. These scenarios have pushed the Pony.ai team to further enhance and refine their algorithms, creating a more sophisticated AI system that is capable of handling more complex road conditions.
Pony.ai showcased six cars at their Friday morning event:
- Four Lincoln MKZs (large four-door sedan)
- Two GAC Chuanqis (compact SUV)
Various local government officials, Pony.ai partners, and key investors attended the event. District Secretary of Nansha, Mr. Chaolin Cai, experienced Pony.ai’s technology for a second time when he participated in the launch event. As Director of the 2017 Executive Committee for the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, Mr. Cai had visited Pony.ai’s California office last September, during which he rode Pony.ai’s autonomous vehicle for the first time and was highly impressed despite its relatively nascent state.
This launch’s trial route was an opportunity for Pony.ai to showcase some of its technological progress. The route featured several challenging scenarios, including three consecutive lane changes on Phoenix Boulevard, large multi-lane intersections, and bridge-crossings involving sloped roads. Starting at the Nansha Government building, the cars immediately turn onto Phoenix Boulevard, the major traffic roadway of Nansha. The route then leads to Jiao Xi Road before reaching its final destination at the civic square where Nansha’s Lantern Festival takes place.
A number of Guangzhou citizens were able to experience a trial ride with Pony.ai engineers. While on the ride, the engineers provided an overview of the technology, helping citizens engage more directly with the innovations that are revolutionizing the transportation system. During Pony.ai’s time in Guangzhou, the team has also developed a specific software module that enables the cars to handle inclement weather and heavy rain conditions. This technical breakthrough has enabled Pony.ai to achieve new heights in reliability and safety.
GAC Group and Pony.ai join forces to realize a self-driving future
On the morning before the trial rides took place, Pony.ai and GAC Group, the second-largest automaker in China and a Fortune 500 corporation, established a strategic partnership to collaborate in four key areas. These four areas include further development of self-driving technology, autonomous vehicle operationalization, broader mobility development, and capital partnership. Together, the two companies will work closely to make progress in research, development, and manufacturing.
President of GAC Group Xingya Feng expressed, “the current global automotive industry is in the process of undergoing profound change. Automotive products are rapidly becoming smarter, more connected, and more lightweight while harnessing innovations in alternative energy. Against an ever-progressing backdrop of smart mobility and intelligent transportation, I believe this partnership between GAC Group and Pony.ai will spearhead innovations in automotive and beyond. Leveraging unique advantages that both organizations bring to the table, this partnership will greatly contribute to the development of China’s smart car industry as well as the Nansha district of Guangzhou.”
James Peng, Co-founder and CEO of Pony.ai, agreed that “the combination of Pony.ai’s world-class capability in software development and GAC Group’s exceptional capability in vehicle technology and production will undoubtedly yield an unparalleled autonomous driving system.
” Harry Hu, COO of Pony.ai, adds: “this partnership between GAC Group and Pony.ai has the potential for meaningful global impact and influence. We look forward to working with GAC Group to deliver the most reliable, safe, and comprehensive autonomous vehicle experience to the public.”
Pony.ai continues to work closely with the Nansha district, partners, and investors
Peng, Pony.ai CEO, expressed gratitude for the Nansha government’s unwavering support and revealed plans to establish an autonomous pilot zone for citizens to experience the convenience and safety of autonomous vehicles. Peng said that in a three-month period, Pony.ai was able to successfully modify and test its vehicles, achieving a level of maturity that enables everyday citizens to try out the technology themselves. Pony.ai was supported at the event by several key partners that also attended, including LiDAR company Velodyne, autonomy enabler AutonomouStuff, and sensor company BDStar Navigation. Working with new and existing partners, Pony.ai will build on Nansha’s automotive foundation to create a leading city in innovative mobility.
Tiancheng Lou, Co-founder and CTO of Pony.ai adds,
“this year we continued our efforts in research and testing, and ultimately realized a breakthrough in autonomous vehicle technology. Starting today, we are thrilled to give Guangzhou citizens their first opportunity to experience self-driving cars. We hope that this moment marks a pivotal point towards a safer and more efficient mobility future.”
Hu, Pony.ai COO, concludes:
“Pony.ai has captured advantages in terms of talent, capital, research and development, and commercialization. We look onwards with excitement as we work with Nansha and our partners to deliver world-class autonomous driving solutions.”
Wenji Jin, Managing Partner of A-round lead investor Legend Capital, believes that Pony.ai will continue to stand at the forefront of this industry and create a leading brand. Fisher Zhang, Managing Partner at A-round lead investor Morningside Ventures, congratulates Pony.ai on being the first to officially introduce autonomous cars to the public [in China]. He says,
“this is a cornerstone not just for Pony.ai but for the entire industry of Autonomous Vehicles, and I look forward to seeing what else the incredible team at Pony.ai has in store.”
Though not present at the event, Founding Managing Partner of Sequoia Capital China, Neil Shen, sent in a video to express his congratulations to the team. He congratulated the team on the significant strategic partnership with GAC Group as well as the historic milestone of the fleet’s official launch. He said,
“We at Sequoia believe that such a wonderful team will continue to surprise us as they make a name for themselves in this unique intersection of industries.”
As a part of Guangzhou’s broader technology development effort, the Nansha district is leading the charge on advancing the local AI industry. Deputy Director of Nansha Development Zone, Ming Xie, revealed that the district is rapidly building out its intelligent urban ecosystem and is striving to become a Ministry of Transportation test base for autonomous vehicles. The district is experiencing an in-pouring of economic and capital resources, including 33 investment projects in partnership with Fortune 500 companies such as Haier, China Life Insurance, China Petroleum, JD.com, and others.
Founded in late 2016, Pony.ai aims to build the safest and most reliable self-driving technology and deliver it at a global scale. Pony.ai’s fully self-developed software algorithms enable a vehicle to accurately perceive its surroundings, predict what others will do, and maneuver itself accordingly. The team is deeply passionate about bringing the latest breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence to the future of transportation. In January 2018, Pony.ai announced a $112M funding round led by Morningside Ventures and Legend Capital, with seed investors Sequoia Capital China and IDG Capital also participating in the round. The funding round represents the largest single round ever raised by a Chinese autonomous driving company. Pony.ai is a privately held company headquartered in Fremont, California and Guangzhou, China, with an R&D center in Beijing, China.