Man­bang en­ters the driver­less truck race

China Daily - - BUSINESS - By MA SI in Bei­jing and YANG JUN in Guiyang Li Hanyi con­trib­uted to this story. Con­tact the writ­ers at masi@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Man­bang Group, China’s largest truck-hail­ing com­pany, is ex­pand­ing into the sec­tor of self­driv­ing truck fleets by lev­er­ag­ing its huge trans­porta­tion data and in­vest­ing in PlusAI Inc, a startup fo­cus­ing on driver­less cargo ve­hi­cles.

“There is a trend to­ward driver­less cargo in the lo­gis­tics in­dus­try,” said Luo Peng, vice-pres­i­dent of Man­bang Group. “Man­bang is pur­su­ing the re­search and devel­op­ment of driver­less freight tech­nol­ogy with PlusAI.”

Ac­cord­ing to Liu Wan­qian, CEO and founder of PlusAI, driver­less cargo ve­hi­cles will ac­cel­er­ate the devel­op­ment of the lo­gis­tics in­dus­try, im­prove road safety, make trans­port more ef­fi­cient and re­duce fuel con­sump­tion. To bet­ter tap into the op­por­tu­nity, he said it is im­por­tant to part­ner with Man­bang, which now serves around 5.2 mil­lion trucks and 1.25 mil­lion lo­gis­tics firms.

“We aim to cre­ate a driver­less com­mer­cial truck­ing fleet with over 1,000 Level 4 (highly au­tonomous) trucks within two years,” said Liu of PlusAI, which is also backed by ven­ture cap­i­tal com­pany Se­quoia Cap­i­tal.

“China’s to­tal lo­gis­tics ex­pen­di­ture ac­counts for about 15 per­cent of its GDP. The smart lo­gis­tics sec­tor is a mul­ti­tril­lion mar­ket.”

Uber-like truck-hail­ing plat­form Man­bang has signed an ex­clu­sive strate­gic part­ner­ship agree­ment with PlusAI. Both com­pa­nies have agreed to co­op­er­ate on high-def­i­ni­tion map data col­lec­tion and large-scale driver­less com­mer­cial fleets. Man­bang did not dis­close its spe­cific in­vest­ment amount in PlusAI.

In Novem­ber, PlusAI and Man­bang an­nounced they would col­lab­o­rate on a Level 4 truck fleet by part­ner­ing with FAW Group, a lead­ing Chi­nese heavy truck equip­ment man­u­fac­turer, and the United States-based chip­maker Nvidia Corp.

PlusAI ob­tained a li­cense to con­duct road tests for self-driv­ing com­mer­cial freight trucks in Changzhou, Jiangsu the same month.

Un­der the part­ner­ship, FAW will help to pro­duce the trucks, while Nvidia will pro­vide its lat­est com­put­ing plat­form to op­er­ate the driver­less fleet.

The move came af­ter PlusAI and Sun­ing, a Chi­nese e-com­merce and lo­gis­tics gi­ant, tested the newly de­vel­oped heavy-duty driver­less truck in Sun­ing’s lo­gis­tics park and on a Shang­hai high­way in May.

The test mim­icked a fairly typ­i­cal sce­nario: A Level 4 au­tonomous truck, loaded with 40 met­ric tons of cargo, drove from one ware­house to an­other.

Equipped with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, deep learn­ing, and light de­tec­tion and rang­ing equip­ment, the driver­less truck re­mained safe at speeds of 80 kilo­me­ters per hour on the high­way, de­tect­ing mov­ing ob­jects 300 me­ters away.

In China, a string of star­tups are work­ing on self-driv­ing trucks. For ex­am­ple, TuSim­ple, founded in 2015, ob­tained a road test li­cense for au­tonomous driv­ing trucks in Shang­hai in Oc­to­ber.

How­ever, a lack of poli­cies aimed at driver­less freight poses a huge chal­lenge for au­tonomous ve­hi­cles, said Zhao Xiang, a se­nior an­a­lyst at Bei­jing-based in­ter­net con­sul­tancy Analysys.

“A fully oper­a­tional driver­less truck fleet needs more than just the proper tech­nol­ogy, it also needs ap­pro­pri­ate poli­cies and sup­port­ing in­fra­struc­ture.” prov­ince in

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