FREMONT – The ponies are coming.
Pony.ai, a Fremont-based self-driving auto technology company that also operates in China, has been approved by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test driverless cars on the streets of Fremont, Milpitas and Irvine.
The DMV announced late last week that it had given approval, finding that Pony.ai is the eighth company to get a driverless test license in California.
The company, which was founded in Fremont in 2016 by James Peng and Tiancheng Lou, both formerly of Baidu and Google, has been testing cars equipped with its self-driving technology suite since 2017.
In these tests, however, there was always a “safety driver” behind the wheel to take over if something unexpected happened on the road. A total of 55 companies are state approved for this type of test.
The new approval means that up to six cars running Pony.ais software on the city streets will have no one behind the wheel, although the tests have some limitations.
The cars and software that Pony.ai will test are designed to operate on roads with speed limits of 45 miles per hour and slower in clear weather and light rainfall, according to a statement by the DMV.
The tests will initially take place in Fremont and Milpitas on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., the DMV said.
To obtain a driverless test permit, companies must certify that they “meet a number of safety, insurance, and vehicle registration requirements,” according to the DMV, including a $ 5 million driver insurance or bond and notifying local governments of the scheduled tests.
According to mandate reports sent to the DMV, Pony.ai’s vehicles with safety drivers were involved in a total of five collisions between June 2019 and February 2021 without injuries. In three of these cases, Pony.ai reported that their cars were stopped in traffic and hit by another driver, and in one case another driver drove into the front of a test car.
In June 2019, the company announced that one of its cars was driving in the affluent Cameron Hills neighborhood of Fremont when the driver of a Tesla Model 3 pulled into the opposite lane to pass the car that was cut back in front of the Pony.ai car and “suddenly braked. ” Even though the safety driver took over and hit the brakes, the car ended the Tesla.
Between 2018 and 2020, the company also reported to the DMV that it had a total of 63 “release events” – each time the human safety driver took over the software for various reasons.
Pony.ai has raised over $ 1 billion from various investors, including more than $ 400 million from Toyota, according to the company.
According to the company, it has carried out “Robotaxi” tests with safety drivers behind the wheel in Irvine and larger Robotaxi fleet tests in China, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. During the Fremont and Irvine pandemic, the company also used its technology tests to provide food packaging and grocery delivery services.
The company also announced a pilot program for Fremont commuters just before the pandemic lockdown orders came in, offering rides for a group of Fremont City employees from the Amtrak / ACE station in Fremont to the City Hall and the city’s development center.
Pony.ai recently said in a press release that it will “deploy automotive-grade autonomous production fleets worldwide in 2023”.
The other companies with driverless car testing approval in California are AutoX, Baidu, San Francisco-based Cruise, acquired by General Motors and owned by Honda and Microsoft, Nuro, Waymo, WeRide and Zoox by Google in DMV.