Just on the outside of the Chinese city of Tianjin, a group of consumers are boarding an autonomous bus that will drive them through the city.
About a minute out of the station, the driver, who has been specially trained for road tests, hands over control to self-driving mode. At a slower than normal pace, the technology guides the bus along a straight stretch of road, braking for lights and a car that cuts across its lane, before parking at the next stop.
“It’s very convenient,” said Yu Xiaoyu, a teacher in her early thirties, “and the kids love it.” The whole family had crowded around the cockpit, ignoring warnings to sit still.
The buses’ manufacturer, DeepBlue Technology, is one of dozens of Chinese start-ups that have shot from obscurity to the global marketplace as companies take advantage of the government’s plan to foster homegrown leaders in international artificial intelligence.
Since being founded in 2014, DeepBlue has shifted from producing technologies for “smart retail” that involve recognition of hand vein patterns to attempting to make commercially viable self-driving technologies, selling its autonomous buses to city governments in China and beyond.
DeepBlue’s “smart Panda bus” is already operating in 10 cities across China and is expected to be in 10 more by the end of 2019. The company has also begun to sell buses overseas, securing a trial agreement in Greece and a $10 million deal to supply buses to Bangkok, Thailand.
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