Didi Chuxing’s autonomous driving unit is now an independent company

Didi Chuxing’s autonomous driving unit is now an independent company, the Chinese ridesharing and transportation giant said today. Didi’s autonomous driving team was created in 2016 and now has more than 200 employees in China and the United States. Didi’s announcement comes about a month after The Information reported that Didi was in talks with investors, including SoftBank, its largest shareholder, to raise money for the unit.

In its announcement, Didi said the new company “will integrate the resources and technological advantages of Didi’s platform, continue to increase investment in R&D of core innovative technologies, and deepen collaboration with upstream and downstream auto industry partners,” as well as promote self-driving technology to transportation authorities.

The Financial Times reported last year that Didi had been approved to test self-driving vehicles in California, where it has a research facility in Mountain View. But Didi has to catch up with other companies that have been testing autonomous cars both in the U.S. and China. In California, it was the 53rd company to get a permit to test self-driving vehicles, behind technology rivals like Uber and Waymo.

Didi has already been testing autonomous vehicles, developed in partnership with car manufacturers and suppliers, in China, but its testing lagged far behind Baidu last year, which registered 140,000 kilometers in Beijing, or about 91% of the 153,600 miles test-driven by autonomous fleets owned by eight companies, including Didi, Pony.ai, Tencent and automakers NIO, Audi, Daimler AG and BAIC Group.

Aside from being able to license its technology to other transportation and vehicle companies, the launch of robo-taxis may help Didi’s ridesharing service make up for a shortage in drivers. Stricter screening criteria was put into place after two female passengers were murdered by drivers on Didi’s ridesharing platform and Didi said last month that it had removed more than 300,000 drivers who didn’t meet its standards since its safety overhaul began last year.

The CEO of the new autonomous driving company will be Zhang Bo, who also is the CTO of Didi. Meng Xing, former executive director of Shunwei China Internet Fund, is its COO, while software engineers Jia Zhaoyin, the head of its technical efforts for Didi’s smart-driving project, and Zheng Jianqiang will head its research and development teams in the U.S. and China, respectively.