In brief: As the novel coronavirus continues to spread throughout China, some foreign companies are limiting their operations in the country. Even many Chinese businesses closed down temporarily in response to the virus. However, not every company is slowing down its operations in the Asian country. Fiat Chrysler has just revealed plans to roll out a robot taxi service in China later this year.
That's a surprisingly quick timeline given the regulatory hurdles that will come with such an ambitious move, but Fiat Chrysler won't be going it alone. The Detroit automaker will have some local expertise thanks to their new partnership with Chinese self-driving vehicle startup AutoX.
AutoX was started back in 2016 by Jianxiong Xiao, and his team is composed of engineers from top universities like MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and UC Berkeley. AutoX's claim to fame is its "game-changing" autonomous vehicle technology, which combines real-time camera vision, sensors, AI software, and "multi-sensory inputs" to help vehicles drive safely and efficiently. It sounds like pretty standard stuff for this industry, but perhaps AutoX has a few unique tricks up its sleeve.
AutoX's goal will be to "enable" Fiat Chrysler by implementing its "AutoX AI Driver" technology into its partner's Pacifica minivans (the same vehicles Waymo uses for its own robo-taxi service). These minivans, which will be called "AutoX Pacifica RoboTaxis," will hit the streets of Shenzhen and Shanghai, carting citizens around for a fee.
The vehicles have been tested in the US already, but China's major cities will present plenty of new challenges for AutoX's AI to overcome. Nonetheless, the company seems confident that it (and Fiat Chrysler) can deploy the first RoboTaxis as early as the first half of 2020.