November, 16, 2020
“The Beijing Swift” - By Prof. Samitha Hettige ©
Sri Lankans will remember “Flying Pigeon” and “Phoenix” bicycles imported from China and distributed by state and private sector institutions such as the Cycle Bazaar, Borella during the 1970s and 80s. Bicycle was the only source of transportation for millions of Chinese. Streets filled with Chinese riding bicycles is a visual most senior Sri Lankans remember. Riding bicycles is again a trend as it is a green method with no emissions. It’s good for the health of those who ride and others. The USA left the Paris Agreement on 4th November 2020 for reasons believed to be to promote their coal industry which emits many gases. USA was the first country to leave the 200 member union focusing on saving the environment. At the same time in China the self-driving vehicles with zero emissions in Beijing has met the technical requirements to go on roads. The test base area of 80 hectares was dedicated at the World Intelligent Connected Vehicles Conference 2020. About 20 hectares consisting of highway, urban and rural roads virtual simulations and smart-city vehicle-road connecting facilities is fully completed for the test runs as per Chinese sources.
At present there are three circuit sites for self-driving vehicles in Beijing. Whilst the US government left the Paris Agreement, California based Pony.ai is working closely with Chinese engineers to startup autonomous driving in the world. Japanese giant Toyota backing this shows how important it is to all those concerned about saving the earth. This trade conglomerate is valued approx. five billion USD as per Reuters. Pony.ai displayed their autonomous Lexus SUV and the FAW truck at the recent China International Import Expo in Shanghai. Self-driving vehicles in USA are operating in close circuits in Phoenix, USA but so far has no timelines planned for a full operation with government support. Although many in the west expected driverless cars to dominate streets by 2020 many companies involved are believed to be blocked with funding. Efforts of Zoox and Tesla are still materializing. With support given by Chinese authorities all involved in the industry are seeing a promising direction for driverless cars in the Chinese market.
The biggest challenge to get the concept moving are the obstacles in the public private coordinating processes as per the KPMG. Among all countries ready to entertain driverless cars, China is holding the 16th place. According to the KPMG research; regulations, innovation, consumer acceptance and the infrastructure are basic needs. The Netherlands, Singapore and USA top the list with much public expectations for driverless cars. The COVID-19 pandemic has given new hope to the concept according to some analysts. This new normal situation demands contactless operations and delivery systems based on autonomous driving technology such as the Robots developed in Sri Lanka. The Chinese worked hard riding bicycles, saving money and the environment to build a super power in 71 years. They have the capacity to lead to make the driverless vehicle concept a reality with a fast decision making public sector mechanism, investor friendly trade policies and mega domestic markets. We may be able to get their assistance to introduce the concept in small scales inside airports, hospitals, industrial zones and in expressways etc. China will lead to build the virtual driver. We must keep moving with it as Einstein said.
The writer is an Academic and a Broadcaster. Views expressed are personal and may not necessarily be the views of his affiliations.