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Following an accident on October 28, 2021 while operating a vehicle in autonomous mode, Pony.ai‘s driverless testing permit has been suspended by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This is the first time the state of California has suspended such a permit.
The accident occurred at 10:50 a.m. on October 28. The autonomous vehicle was being tested on roads in Fremont, Calif., which is where Pony.ai’s U.S. headquarters is located. You can read the full report of the accident on the CA DMV website. Below is a description of the accident:
“On October 28, 2021, after turning right onto Fremont Blvd from Cushing Pkwy, the Pony.ai Autonomous Vehicle (“Pony.ai AV”) performed a left lane change maneuver in autonomous mode. While performing the lane change, the Pony.ai AV came into contact with a center divider on Fremont Blvd. and the traffic sign that was posted on the divider. The Pony.ai AV suffered moderate damage to the front of the vehicle and the undercarriage. There were no injuries and no other vehicles involved. Fremont Police Department were called to report the incident and the damaged street sign. Pony.ai has subsequently worked with local authorities to resolve all issues related to the damaged sign.”
There have been plenty of other reported crashes involving autonomous vehicles. But this incident stands out because the vehicle was operating in autonomous mode and didn’t involve any other vehicle.
The Robot Report reached out to both the CA DMV and Pony.ai on December 13, 2021 for more information about the reinstatement process. Neither organization responded to us, however, Reuters obtained the following statement from the DMV: “On Nov. 19, the DMV notified Pony.ai that the department is suspending its driverless testing permit, effective immediately, following a reported solo collision in Fremont, California, on Oct. 28.”
Six months ago, Pony.ai became the eighth company to receive a driverless testing permit in California. The other companies are Apollo, AutoX, Cruise, Nuro, Waymo, WeRide and Zoox. Cruise, Nuro and Waymo are the only companies with permits allowing them to deploy autonomous vehicles in commercial operations. Cruise and Waymo are developing robotaxis to transport passengers, while Nuro is developing an autonomous delivery vehicle.
Pony.ai has 10 Hyundai Kona electric vehicles registered under its driverless testing permit. According to the CA DMV, the suspension doesn’t impact Pony.ai’s permit for testing with a human safety driver.
Pony.ai IPO falls apart
Pony.ai is a startup that operates in both China and the U.S. Most of its operations, including its autonomous trucks, take place in China. It hoped to go public in the U.S. via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that would have raised an additional $1.2 billion in funding.
But in August 2021, Pony.ai suspended those plans with VectoIQ Acquisition. According to Reuters, this deal fell through after Pony.ai “failed to gain assurances from Beijing that it would not become a target of a crackdown against Chinese technology companies.”
Pony.ai recently lost at least three key executives following the merger of its autonomous car and truck R&D teams. Zhenhao Pan was the CTO of Pony’s trucking business; Youhan Sun led planning and control for Pony’s trucking business in the U.S.; and Sun Haowen, former head of planning and control for Pony’s autonomous driving in China.
Expanding in China
Pony.ai was granted a license by the city of Shenzhen to start autonomous driving tests on the city’s open roads. The 12-square-mile (20 square kilometer) pilot zone in Beijing covers major subway stations, residential areas, and tech parks. With the addition of Shenzhen, Pony.ai said it now performs autonomous driving tests or autonomous services in seven Chinese cities.
On November 25, 2021, Pony.ai announced it received approval to run paid autonomous robotaxi services in southeastern Beijing. Beijing, China’s capital city, is the first Tier-1 city in China to approve robotaxi commercialization, allowing self-driving companies to charge for their autonomous services.