China’s ride-hailing giant Didi is back in public view after two years of staying low amid a regulatory crackdown.
The SoftBank-backed company announced Friday at a company open day a series of product ambitions, including working with Chinese carmakers to deploy self-developed robotaxis to the public on a 24/7 basis by 2025, which will complement its network of millions of drivered cars.
In 2020, Didi created an autonomous driving subsidiary that went on to raise funding from SoftBank, an existing investor in the parent firm. Like most robotaxi companies, Didi opted to partner with OEMs to build its autonomous fleets. It’s so far used vehicles from Lincoln, BYD, Nissan and Volvo.
In 2021, the company said it would be buying cars from Volvo, an old partner of Uber, to work on “hundreds of autonomous drive-ready vehicles with backup systems.”
Aside from robotaxis that resemble conventional passenger cars, Didi is touting a concept vehicle tailored completely to self driving. The concept car, which was unveiled at its open day in a demo video, is a spacious rectangular van with no steering wheel or driver’s seat (shown above). Instead, “Neuron,” what the car is called, features a large in-car infotainment screen and has a robotic arm that can pick up suitcases and hand passengers a bottle of water.
Didi is also automating maintenance services for its vehicles. In a video, the company shows its autonomous cars getting washed, charged and checked at its service center — all done without human help.
Didi’s ambitions don’t stop at shuttling humans around. At the event, it announced a brand new autonomous trucking business named Kargobot, joining an already crowded space. With a fleet of 100 autonomous trucks, Kargobot’s revenues already surpassed 100 million yuan ($14.6 million) by March this year, according to Didi.