November 7, 2022
XPeng has received a permit to start testing its new G9 electric SUV as a self-driving vehicle on public roads in its home city of Guangzhou China.
The test holds special significance for XPeng in particular, and the robotaxi industry in general, as it marks the first time a mass-produced vehicle has been approved for such an exercise.
The news follows the announcement at the company’s recent tech day that the G9 had passed the government-led Autonomous Driving Closed-field Test.
Successful negotiation of the Closed-field Test – which was conducted at nighttime and assessed the G9 over 31 urban traffic scenarios of varying difficulty – makes the SUV eligible for the more advanced form of testing that public roads deliver.
Although self-driving vehicles are becoming a feature of life in China – Baidu’s Apollo Go ride-hailing robotaxis alone are operating in 10 cities, for example – XPeng’s new Guangzhou permit has the potential to constitute a breakthrough moment, because of the unusual nature of the vehicle.
XPeng has focused on a strategy whereby its EV can be bought as a passenger car by individuals or employed for autonomous applications, such as operating as a robotaxi.
Because of this dual-purpose approach – where the tech on the G9 is identical, regardless of use – production costs are lower and there will be a greater opportunity for robotaxi operators to scale up quickly.
Currently, most robotaxis are versions of familiar production cars retro-fitted with hardware and software from specialist autonomous driving companies. In the United States, for example, Cruise uses modified Chevrolet Bolts while Waymo has developed the Jaguar i-Pace. Even Motional’s Hyundai Ioniq 5 – built from the ground up to have automated functionality –differs from the conventional passenger car.
That’s not the case with the G9, which is essentially the same vehicle – at least in terms of hardware – whether it’s deployed as a robotaxi or as private transport. Its self-driving capability is delivered via 31 sensors, including dual Lidar units and cameras, processed by Nvidia Drive Orin chips that deliver computing power of 508 TOPS (trillion operations per second).
The key difference in the G9 AVs which will be assessed in Guangzhou and those available to private customers comes via the software, with those on test delivering Level 4 capability. Level 4 is defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers as when a vehicle drives itself, with no human intervention required, in specific circumstances.
This upgrade is not yet available to G9 buyers, although next year customers in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen will get the opportunity to download XPeng’s most advanced driver assistance system yet, XNGP (Navigation Guided Pilot), which can automate certain driving tasks on highways and in complex urban environments.
“Securing the autonomous driving road testing permit for a commercial vehicle is a strong endorsement of our autonomous driving deep R&D and software capabilities,” said Dr. Xinzhou Wu, vice president of the Autonomous Driving Center at XPeng.
“Our approach by using mass-produced commercial vehicles to explore mobility solutions will build a strong foundation to realize economies of scale. Significant cost-efficiency brings us another step closer to commercializing robotaxis in the future.”
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