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Robotaxi Revolution: US Tech Leads, China Embraces, But Public Perception Lags in America

The global race to commercialize robotaxis is accelerating, with companies in both the United States and China making significant strides. However, despite American firms leading in technological advancements, a stark contrast exists in public acceptance of autonomous driving technology, potentially hindering U.S. progress.

Robotaxi Services Expanding in the US and China

Waymo, Google’s self-driving car unit, recently launched paid robotaxi services in Los Angeles, adding to its existing operations in San Francisco and Phoenix. Meanwhile, Cruise, a General Motors subsidiary, operates robotaxi services in several U.S. cities, and Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, has announced plans to release a robotaxi later this year.

China’s autonomous driving industry is booming, with multiple cities granting licenses for driverless vehicles and implementing pilot programs. Baidu’s Apollo Go robotaxi service platform is a frontrunner, alongside other players like AutoX, Pony.ai, and WeRide. Additionally, tech giants like Didi Chuxing are partnering with automakers to develop and deploy robotaxis, further fueling the competition.

Wuhan, in particular, has become a global leader in autonomous vehicle operation, with Baidu’s Apollo Go covering most of the city’s urban area. This contrasts with cities like Beijing, where robotaxis are limited to suburban roads.

Public Perception and Regulation: A Tale of Two Countries

Despite American companies’ technological superiority, public perception and regulatory hurdles present significant challenges in the U.S. Following accidents involving Cruise’s autonomous taxis, California regulators temporarily suspended the company’s service, and Waymo’s vehicles have faced vandalism and opposition from labor unions.

Surveys highlight a stark difference in public opinion. While a majority of Americans express fear or uncertainty about autonomous vehicles, Chinese respondents exhibit high levels of trust and acceptance, especially in areas with extensive testing and deployment.

Experts warn that this negative perception in the U.S. could impede technological progress. China’s less restrictive regulations and public support may enable faster large-scale deployment, generating valuable data and experience that could accelerate commercialization and technological advancements.

Technical Advancements and Regulatory Landscape

Currently, most robotaxis fall under the L4 autonomy standard, meaning they can operate driverlessly in most scenarios but are limited by geofencing and speed restrictions. While Chinese regulations mandate in-vehicle safety officers (with the possibility of remote supervision), many Waymo vehicles in the U.S. have already removed them.

Experts emphasize that the U.S. should not shy away from developing self-driving technology due to public apprehension. They argue that taking calculated risks and investing in further research is crucial to avoid falling behind China and other countries with more aggressive development strategies.

The industry believes that self-driving technology offers numerous social and environmental benefits. In addition to potentially being safer than human drivers, autonomous vehicles could improve traffic flow, reduce energy consumption, and enhance land use efficiency.

Furthermore, experts like Professor Qiao Chunming emphasize that self-driving technology can significantly benefit the elderly, people with disabilities, and those with limited mobility. He highlights the importance of considering the social applications of autonomous vehicles, not just their technological capabilities.

As the robotaxi race continues, the U.S. and China are taking different paths. While American companies focus on pushing technological boundaries, China prioritizes large-scale deployment and data collection. The outcome of this competition will undoubtedly shape the future of transportation worldwide.

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