Amid growing pessimism over the pace of autonomous vehicle progress, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has decided to move more aggressively by spinning out its self-driving car unit.
Today the company announced that its autonomous driving unit will become a standalone company, a move designed to bring greater focus to research, product design, and the search for business use cases.
“Autonomous driving will greatly enhance the safety and efficiency of travel and help cities to be smarter and more sustainable,” said Didi chair and CEO Cheng Wei in a statement. “Technology serves people; in the future, people’s transportation needs in different scenarios will be met by the combination of seamless autonomous driving technology and human driving services that are indispensable for their quality and warmth.”
The move comes amid a broader rethinking of overly optimistic predictions for autonomous vehicles that cropped up as companies like Uber and Google poured money into research. Observers and automotive executives have begun throwing cold water on the rosiest predictions, cautioning that the technology has a long road ahead before it will be truly reliable.
One such reality check came in July, when Volkswagon said it would invest $1 billion in cash and give its European self-driving unit to Ford-backed self-driving vehicle startup Argo. The deal was seen as an acknowledgment that the companies would need to share development costs, given the extended timeline the technology faces.
“We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles,” Ford CEO Jim Hackett said in April, according to the New York Times.
But Didi is apparently eager to go faster. The company created its self-driving unit in 2016 and now has 200 people working on the technology, with the staff split between China and the U.S.
Didi CTO Zhang Bo will lead the new company. While still trying to leverage the ride-hailing platform for data and insights, it will also push ahead on developing core technologies and searching for partnerships among automotive companies.