Neolix, a startup self-driving vehicle marker out of China, recently launched their vans as the company focuses on scaling up their logistics services that is becoming more difficult to tackle due to online retail.
The Beijing-based startup, barely a year old, has already deployed the vehicles in the capital and other cities, but it faces stiff competition from a crowded field where other players, especially e-commerce groups, are racing to develop similar robovans.
"Operating 10,000 units will be an industry milestone and it is crucial [for us] to achieve it," said Yu Enyuan, 45, Neolix's founder and chief executive.
Neolix's ambition is to replace the roughly 40 million vehicles providing so-called last-mile logistics in China, a market projected to be $428 billion. These home deliveries are now handled mainly by two- and three-wheel electric motorbikes, zigzagging through neighborhoods to carry everything from milk tea to mattresses.
But the startup still must clear hurdles before its robovans can hit city streets.
Technology companies such as China's Pony.ai and Baidu, as well as U.S.-based Google and Nuro are racing to make self-driving robotaxis a reality. But robovans running on fixed routes at slow speeds in protected areas represent the "easiest" application in autonomous driving, according to Egil Juliussen, of research company IHS Markit.
Based on industry standards, Neolix's camera and sensor-guided vans have reached level 4, which means the car can handle the majority of driving situations independently.
The vehicles have passed 500,000 km of test runs and are now deployed in gated theme parks in Beijing and 10 other Chinese cities for use as mobile convenience stores stacked with drinks and snacks.
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