When driverless cars drive into the “eye of the storm” in Guangzhou

Xiaoling didn't expect that when she woke up, she was already in the eye of the new crown epidemic in Guangzhou.

On May 29, the Guanggang New Town Community in Liwan District, where Xiaoling is located, suddenly announced the closure of management. The surrounding shops and supermarkets were all closed, and the takeaway that was once within reach became out of reach.

▲The staff is waiting at the gate of the quarantine community. Picture from: Xiaoling

At noon that day, the takeaway rider told Xiaoling that the road was closed due to the epidemic, and she could only apply for a refund. Xiaoling, who had no surplus food at home, found only a bottle of red wine that had been sealed for a long time after digging through the boxes.

Suddenly, eating became a problem for this solitary worker. Fortunately, starting from June 1st, Xiaoling has been able to order materials from government suppliers through the community housekeeper, and the problem of food and clothing has basically been solved.

Despite the two injections of the new crown vaccine, Xiaoling is still a little nervous in the face of the sudden home isolation. Just like "Sanlian Life Weekly" reporter Wu Qi sighed in Wuhan last year, impermanence makes us surprised by the value of daily life .

At present, in Liwan District, there are already 180,000 people under closed management like Xiaoling, which also puts a lot of pressure on material security. For example, personnel transporting materials must undergo nucleic acid testing every time they leave the enclosed area, and some areas are "only in and not out", which may affect the efficiency of material operations.

In this context, unmanned vehicles have become a new weapon in this "war epidemic." The driverless driver, which seems to be far away from us, quietly drove towards the lives of 180,000 people.

Unmanned vehicles driving to closed communities due to the epidemic

At 10 am on June 4th, beside the Hedong Bridge from Haizhu District, Guangzhou to Liwan District, a convoy carrying daily necessities, food, water and medicines drove to the closed management area of ​​the epidemic, but none of them were in the vehicle. people.

Since yesterday, Guangzhou's self-driving car companies have begun to send unmanned vehicles to support the transportation of materials in the epidemic control area. Its Chinese Yuanzhixing became the first batch of fleets to enter the Liwan District.

Wen Yuan Zhixing Market Public Relations Department Director Jinyan Ou told Ai Faner that the goods involved in this time include 2 Mini Robobus and 2 Robotaxi, and there is no equipment in the car. Any personnel, after arriving at the destination, the local staff will directly receive the materials to avoid the risk of cross-infection of frontline personnel.

In fact, in the past, according to laws and regulations related to autonomous driving, most unmanned vehicles must be equipped with safety officers even if they can be tested on the road, ready to take over the vehicle in an emergency. However, if a security officer is equipped, it is impossible to truly achieve "contactless" delivery.

However, since last year, some autonomous driving companies have obtained permission to test on the road without the need for on-board safety officers, and China’s first autonomous driving license for fully driverless road tests was issued to Wen Yuan Zhixing. This time the epidemic just happened. It worked.

▲A safety officer on an unmanned vehicle. Picture from: Chutian Metropolis Daily

On this kind of unmanned minibus, there are no safety steering wheels, accelerators, brakes and other traditional car accessories. The perception mainly depends on the 4 lidars mounted around the vehicle. According to Wen Yuan Zhixing, the Mini Robobus can carry up to 10 people, has a load of 1.2 tons, and can travel at a speed of 40 km/h.

After testing and preparations such as high-definition map scanning in the early hours of yesterday morning, these unmanned vehicles have begun to enter the enclosed area to transport materials. Although the road closure is conducive to unmanned vehicles, it has not been smooth sailing.

Zhong Hua, senior vice president of Wenyuan Zhixing Engineering, said that the roads after entering the epidemic area are relatively narrow, and many illegally parked vehicles will be encountered, which also poses a challenge to unmanned vehicles.

In addition to Wenyuan Zhixing, Baidu, JD.com, Xiaoma Zhixing, Yihang and other companies have also successively invested unmanned vehicles or drones in the transportation of materials in epidemic control areas.

Ai Faner learned from Baidu that Baidu Apollo has deployed five types of unmanned vehicles for logistics and distribution with a load of 500kg, unmanned vehicles for cooked food delivery, Apollon with a load of 1 ton, Robobus with a load of 2 tons, and a shared unmanned vehicle (Robotaxi). A total of 9 unmanned vehicles rushed to the frontline of the fight against the epidemic.

Yesterday afternoon, Baidu's 4 unmanned vehicles have arrived in Liwan District, and the remaining vehicles will also be in place on the weekend. These unmanned vehicles also do not need to be equipped with a safety officer, but are remotely controlled by means such as 5G cloud driving.

On the other hand, Xiaoma Zhixing dispatched self-driving trucks with a carrying weight of more than 20 tons and a maximum load of 30 tons, mainly responsible for assisting the distribution of emergency living supplies in the Dongnao Street and Fangcun areas of Liwan District.

Xiaoma Zhixing obtained the first self-driving truck test license issued by Guangzhou City in December last year. It can currently complete traffic signal recognition and response, avoiding, following, merging, overtaking, emergency parking, crossing, and roundabouts. A complex scenario test project.

According to news from Southern+, as of yesterday afternoon, the above-mentioned unmanned vehicles have completed more than ten contactless deliveries. In the future, the team of unmanned vehicles will continue to expand, and GAC and Didi also said they are ready to join at any time.

Maybe it is because Xiaoling has not yet felt the obvious changes brought about by these unmanned vehicles to material distribution at the beginning of the operation. However, the relevant person in charge also stated that more unmanned delivery communities will be "developed" in the Guangsteel New City area to provide unmanned vehicle delivery services to more citizens in the enclosed area.

Technology Anti-epidemic 2.0

After experiencing the 2020 epidemic, people are no strangers to contactless delivery. During the epidemic last year, a large number of unmanned vehicles and drones were put into service in isolated areas.

The unmanned delivery vehicles of JD.com and Baidu delivered medical supplies to local hospitals in Wuhan and took on many delivery orders for designated hospitals for the new crown pneumonia. Huawei's 5G unmanned vehicles participated in the work of picking up medical staff.

In addition, SF Express has also invested in several Ark drones in Shiyan, Hubei, which can deliver 10 packages to the local hospital in 5 minutes, and can solve nearly 1,000 express delivery tasks every day.

In Futian District, Shenzhen, unmanned sanitation cleaning robots have also been used, which can accomplish tasks such as cleaning, sprinkling, and garbage collection independently, so as to reduce the risks of sanitation workers.

Although these devices have made a lot of contributions during the epidemic last year, there are still many unsatisfactory aspects in the actual use experience.

For example, the unmanned delivery vehicles put into operation are small in size and carry a limited amount of cargo. The speed is about 5-15 km/h, which is only equivalent to the speed of people jogging. The efficiency of delivery is obviously not as good as that of daily freight vehicles.

In addition, some people in the industry pointed out that because many robots did not consider the special scenes in the epidemic at the beginning of the design, there are still certain shortcomings in the ability to perceive and adapt in complex environments.

In addition, most unmanned vehicles need to be equipped with safety officers and the area open to autonomous driving road testing is limited. Wenyuan Zhixing's chief operating officer Zhang Li also said in an interview last year , "At this time, completely unmanned self-driving cars There is a certain risk to pick up patients or citizens on the road."

And one year later, our weapons against the epidemic, in addition to vaccines, unmanned vehicles and other technological "anti-epidemic" means have also ushered in an upgrade.

The unmanned vehicles currently in operation have not only got rid of the safety officers and realized "truly unmanned" delivery, but also large vehicles such as minibuses and trucks with a load of more than tons have increased, and the driving speed is faster than small unmanned delivery vehicles. It directly improves the efficiency of unmanned distribution in the epidemic isolation area by several orders of magnitude.

In addition, the participation of unmanned vehicles in the transportation of materials this time can also meet certain personnel transportation needs. Looking at these unmanned vehicles driving on the highway, one can't help but wonder: after the epidemic, will these unmanned vehicles start to become daily transportation?

Driverless, so close, so far

In fact, before the epidemic, some driverless car companies in my country had already started operating in cities, and passengers could make reservations for driverless vehicles like online car-hailing.

In 2019, Wenyuan Zhixing's Robotaxi began public operations in Huangpu District, Guangzhou. It completed 147,128 trips in one year and carried more than 60,000 passengers.

In January of this year, the L5 fully driverless taxis of Auto X, an autonomous driving technology company invested by Alibaba, also began to test rides to the public. In addition, Baidu Didi has also opened trial operations in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Although many passengers who have experienced driverless taxis said that there is basically no need for human intervention during the driving process, these vehicles must be equipped with safety officers, and the areas and routes that can be driven are limited, and they are generally in relatively remote areas. .

But it is precisely based on the accumulation of a large number of road tests that after the recurrence of the epidemic, many driverless companies can quickly invest in material transportation.

However, the prospects for the commercialization of high-level autonomous driving at this stage are actually not optimistic. Cost, technology, and regulations are the mountains that lie ahead of the commercialization of autonomous driving.

The vision of driverless taxis was originally to replace drivers and reduce operating costs. However, the unmanned vehicles on the road are not cheap. For example, the cost of Didi's unmanned vehicles is more than 1 million yuan. In addition, it needs to be equipped with security personnel and operation and maintenance personnel, and the labor cost is higher than that of ordinary taxis.

Even an online car-hailing giant like Uber decided to give up after burning $2 billion in research and development of autonomous driving technology, and packaged and sold its unmanned car department to stop losses.

As for the policy, it is almost recognized as one of the biggest challenges in the implementation of autonomous driving in the industry. Although many cities have issued licenses for autonomous driving tests, considering the safety risks of car driving, relevant policies and regulations will be cautious and conservative. At present, autonomous driving What companies can do is small-scale testing, and no one can give a timetable for large-scale commercial use.

But even if the regulations are released immediately, will these companies really dare to let their self-driving cars carry passengers on the road? At present, the ability of autonomous driving mainly relies on algorithm understanding and lidar, but lidar is expensive, and algorithms require a lot of driving data training.

Even ignoring these issues, it is difficult for vehicles to fully autonomously respond to all road conditions. There are reports that the current driverless technology can handle 90% of the conventional road conditions, but the remaining 10% takes 90% of the time to solve.

Don't say 10%, even if there is only 1% risk, which car company dare to bear this responsibility?

Because of the L4 level of autonomous driving, the vehicle no longer requires the driver to do any takeover, which means that in the event of an accident, the responsibility can only be with the car company.

The recent departure of Waymo CEO John Krafcik has also triggered a lot of discussion in the autonomous driving circle. Waymo is the first company to develop and launch Robotaxi. Many technologies are among the best in the industry and are the targets of many autonomous driving car companies.

▲ Waymo unmanned taxis began operating in Phoenix in 2018.

However, John Krafcik has become increasingly pessimistic about the commercialization of autonomous driving in recent years. In 2017, he even said in a speech:

Even in the next few decades, self-driving cars will not be ubiquitous, and fully self-driving cars will be even more impossible.

Of course, John Krafcik's prediction may not come true. At least some domestic autopilot companies do not agree. Wenyuan Zhixing Chief Operating Officer Zhang Li once said that although China's autopilot development is nearly 10 years later than the United States, because the road conditions in China are far more complex than those in the United States, the road test data obtained is in Both quality and quantity are unmatched by the United States.

The development of China's autonomous driving technology has indeed revealed some signs of overtaking in corners. In the full-year 2020 automatic driving data released by the California Department of Transportation DMV, AutoX, Xiaoma Zhixing, Wenyuan Zhixing, and Didi Chinese companies have entered the top ten of the MPI (average number of miles taken over) list.

▲Average takeover mileage is one of the core metrics for autonomous driving.

Peter Thiel, a well-known Silicon Valley investor and author of "From Zero to One", said that 2020 is the first year of the 21st century. New economy, new technology, and new trends have been rapidly established in just one year, and the epidemic has unexpectedly become one of them. Catalyst.

In addition to major breakthroughs in mRNA vaccine technology, there is also an epidemic catalyzed by the large-scale road test of autonomous driving. The special scenario under the epidemic may not last, but looking back years later, the past two years may be a key turning point for driverless vehicles to become part of daily life.

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