FREMONT – The ponies are coming.
Pony.ai, a Fremont-based self-driving car 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 receive a driverless test permit in California.
Founded in 2016 in Fremont by James Peng and Tiancheng Lou, both formerly Baidu and Google, the company has been testing cars equipped with its self-driving technology suite since 2017.
In these tests, however, a “safety driver” was always 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 with Pony.ai software on the city streets will have no one behind the wheel, although the tests come with some restrictions.
The cars and software that Pony.ai will test are designed to operate on roads with designated speed limits of 45 mph and slower, in clear weather and light rainfall, according to a statement from 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 insurance or a $ 5 million bond to ensure vehicles without a driver and notification to local governments of the scheduled tests.
According to commissioned reports to the DMV, Pony.ai’s cars with safety drivers were involved in a total of five collisions without injuries between June 2019 and February 2021. In three of those cases, Pony.ai reported that their cars were stopped in traffic and hit by another driver, and in one case another driver backed up into the front of a test car.
In June 2019, the company said 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 overtake the car that was pulled back in front of the Pony.ai car and “Suddenly slowed down”. Even though the safety driver took over and hit the brakes, the car ended the Tesla.
Between 2018 and 2020, the company reported a total of 63 “disengagement” events to the DMV – every time the human safety driver was replaced by 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” test operations with safety drivers at the wheel in Irvine and larger robot taxi fleet tests in China, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. It also used its technology tests for grocery package and grocery delivery services during the pandemic in both Fremont and Irvine.
The company also announced a pilot program for commuters in Fremont shortly before the pandemic lockdown orders arrive, offering rides for a group of Fremont city workers from the Amtrak / ACE train station in Fremont to the town hall and city development center.
Pony.ai recently said in a press release that it will “deploy automotive-grade autonomous production fleets worldwide by 2023”.
The other companies with a driverless car test license in California are AutoX, Baidu, the San Francisco-based Cruise that was acquired by General Motors and has investments from Honda and Microsoft, Nuro, Waymo owned by Google, WeRide and Zoox to the DMV .