Staff waiting at the entrance of the isolated area. Photo from: Xiao Ling
At noon that day, the delivery rider told Xiao Ling that she could not deliver food due to the epidemic closure and had to apply for a refund. After rummaging through her home, she only found a bottle of wine that had been sealed for a long time. For a while, eating became a problem for the lone worker. Fortunately, since June 1, Xiao Ling has been able to order supplies from government suppliers through the community housekeeper, so the problem of food and clothing has basically been solved.
Despite having received two doses of the new crown vaccine, Xiao Ling is still a bit apprehensive about the sudden home quarantine.
The lament of Wu Qi, a reporter for SFW in Wuhan last year, still resonates now: impermanence makes us realize the value of the everyday.
At present, in Liwan District, and Xiao Ling, like the closed management has been 180,000 people, which also brought a lot of pressure on the material security. For example, personnel transporting materials have to undergo nucleic acid testing every time they come out of the closed area, and some areas are “only in and out”, which may affect the efficiency of material operation.
In such a context, unmanned vehicles have become the new weapon of this “war epidemic”. It seems that the driverless cars are still very far away from us, but they are quietly coming to the lives of 180,000 people.
Driverless vehicles heading for the closed community of the epidemic
At 10am on June 4, by the Hedong Bridge leading from Guangzhou’s Haizhu District to Liwan District, a convoy of vehicles carrying household goods, food, water and medicine drove to the closed management area of the epidemic, without a single person on board.
Starting yesterday, Guangzhou’s self-driving car companies began sending driverless vehicles to support the transportation of supplies in the epidemic control area, with Wenyuan Zhixing becoming the first fleet to enter Liwan District.
Jinyan Au, Director of Marketing and PR Department of Wenyuan Zhixing, told Ai Fan that this time, 2 driverless minibuses (Mini Robobus) and 2 driverless cabs (Robotaxi) are involved in the transportation of supplies, and there is no personnel in the vehicles, and the local staff will receive the supplies directly after arriving at the destination to avoid the risk of cross-contamination by frontline personnel.
In fact, in the past, most driverless vehicles, even if they could be tested on the road, had to be equipped with a safety officer ready to take over the vehicle in case of emergency, according to laws related to autonomous driving.
But if equipped with a safety officer, it is impossible to truly achieve ‘no-touch’ delivery.
However, since last year, some autonomous driving companies have been granted permission to test on the road without accompanying safety officers, and China’s first fully driverless road test autonomous driving license was issued to Wenyuan Zhixing, which just came in handy for this epidemic.
In this driverless minibus, there is not even a safety steering wheel, throttle, brakes and other traditional car accessories, and perception relies mainly on the 4 LIDARs mounted around the vehicle. According to Wenyuan Zhixing, the Mini Robobus can take up to 10 people, carry 1.2 tons of weight and can travel at a speed of 40 km/h.
After tests and preparations such as high-definition map scanning in the early hours of yesterday morning, these driverless vehicles have started to enter the closed control area to deliver supplies, although it was not smooth sailing due to the road closure.
Wenyuan Zhixing senior vice president of engineering Zhong Hua said that the road after entering the epidemic area is relatively narrow and will also encounter many illegally parked vehicles, which also poses a challenge to unmanned vehicles.
In addition to Wenyuan Zhixing, Baidu, Jingdong, Xiao Ma Zhixing, Yihang and other companies have also successively put unmanned vehicles or drones into the transport of supplies in the epidemic control area.
We learned from Baidu that Baidu Apollo has deployed five types of vehicles, including a 500kg logistics delivery drone, a cooked food delivery drone, a 1-ton Apollo, a 2-ton Robobus, and a shared drone (Robotaxi), for a total of nine unmanned vehicles to the front line of the epidemic.
Four of Baidu’s unmanned vehicles arrived in Liwan District yesterday afternoon, and the remaining vehicles will be in place over the weekend. These driverless vehicles also do not require a safety officer, but are operated remotely through 5G cloud driving and other means.
Pony Smart sent a self-driving truck with a trailer weight of more than 20 tons and a maximum load of 30 tons to assist in the delivery of emergency supplies in the Dong Jiao Street and Fangcun areas of Liwan District.
Pony Smart received the first self-driving truck test license issued by Guangzhou last December and can now complete a number of complex scenarios including traffic signal recognition and response, avoidance, following, merging, overtaking, emergency parking, intersection and roundabout passage.
According to the news from South+, as of yesterday afternoon, the aforementioned driverless vehicles have completed more than a dozen contactless deliveries. The fleet of driverless vehicles will continue to expand next, and GAC and DDT have said they are ready to join.
Perhaps because the operation has just begun, Xiao Ling has not yet felt the obvious changes brought by these driverless vehicles to the distribution of materials. However, the relevant responsible also said that they will “develop” more unmanned deliverable districts in the area of Guanggang New City to provide unmanned vehicle delivery service for more citizens in the closed area.
Technology against the epidemic 2.0
After the 2020 epidemic, people are actually no stranger to contactless delivery. During the epidemic last year, a large number of unmanned vehicles and drones were put into service in quarantined areas. Unmanned delivery vehicles from Jingdong and Baidu delivered medical
supplies to local hospitals in Wuhan, taking on a number of delivery orders for the new crown pneumonia designated hospitals, and Huawei’s 5G unmanned vehicles were involved in transporting medical staff.
In addition, Shunfeng has also invested in a number of Ark drones in Shiyan, Hubei Province, which can deliver 10 packages to local hospitals in 5 minutes and can solve nearly 1,000 express delivery tasks every day.
And in Shenzhen’s Futian District, unmanned sanitation cleaning robots have also been activated, which can achieve autonomous completion of sweeping, watering and garbage collection to reduce the risk of sanitation workers.
Although these devices made a lot of contributions during last year’s epidemic, but in the actual use of the experience is still a lot of less satisfactory places.
For example, the unmanned delivery vehicles put into operation are small and carry a limited number of goods at a speed of about 5-15 km/h, which is only equivalent to the speed of a person jogging, and the efficiency of delivery is obviously inferior to that of a daily cargo truck.
In addition, some industry insiders pointed out that because many robots were not designed at the beginning to take into account the special scenarios in the epidemic, the ability to sense and adapt in a complex environment is still lacking.
Combined with the fact that most driverless vehicles need to be equipped with safety officers, as well as the limited areas open to self-driving road tests, Wenyuan Zhixing’s Chief Operating Officer Tension also said in an interview last year that “there is a certain risk for completely unmanned self-driving cars to pick up patients or citizens on the road at this time.
And a year later, our weapons against the epidemic, in addition to vaccines, technology ‘anti-epidemic’ means such as unmanned vehicles have also seen an upgrade. The unmanned vehicles currently in operation have not only gotten rid of the safety officers to achieve ‘truly unmanned’ delivery, but also have more large vehicles such as minibuses and trucks carrying tons of weight and driving much faster than small unmanned delivery vehicles, directly giving the unmanned delivery efficiency in the quarantined areas of the epidemic several orders of magnitude higher.
In addition this time to participate in the transport of materials driverless vehicles, but also to meet a certain amount of personnel transportation needs. Looking at these unmanned vehicles on the road, one can’t help but wonder: after the epidemic, are these driverless vehicles going to start becoming everyday transportation?
Driverless, so near, so far
In fact, before the epidemic, some driverless car companies in China have started to operate in cities, and passengers can book driverless vehicles just like online cars.
In 2019, Wenyuan Zhixing’s Robotaxi began public operations in Guangzhou’s Huangpu District, completing 147,128 trips and carrying more than 60,000 passengers in a year’s time.
In January, Alibaba-invested driverless technology company Auto X’s L5-rated fully driverless cabs also began public test rides, and Baidu Drip has also opened trial operations in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities.
Although many passengers who have experienced driverless cabs have said that there is basically no need for human intervention during the driving process, these vehicles must be equipped with safety officers, and the areas and routes available for driving are limited, generally in relatively remote areas.
But it is also based on the accumulation in a large number of road tests, this time after the resurgence of the epidemic, a number of driverless companies can quickly put into the transport of supplies.
However, the prospects for commercialization of high-level autonomous driving at this stage are actually not optimistic. Cost, technology, and regulations are a few mountains that lie ahead of the commercialization of autonomous driving.
The vision of driverless taxis was originally to replace drivers and reduce operating costs. However, the driverless vehicles on the road now are not cheap, for example, the cost of driverless vehicles of DDT is more than 1 million yuan, plus to be equipped with safety officers and operation and maintenance personnel, the human cost is also higher than the general cab.
Even Uber, the online car giant, decided to give up after burning $2 billion in self-driving technology research and development, and sold the unmanned car division as a package to stop losses.
As for the policy is almost recognized as one of the biggest challenges in the industry of autonomous driving landing, although many cities have issued licenses for autonomous driving tests, but considering the safety risks of car driving, the relevant policies and regulations will be on the side of caution and conservatism, at present, autonomous driving companies can only do a small range of tests, no one can give a timetable for large-scale commercialization.
But even if the regulations are immediately liberalized, these companies will really dare to let their unmanned cars on the road to carry passengers? At present, the ability of autonomous driving mainly relies on algorithmic understanding and LIDAR, LIDAR is costly, while the algorithm is a lot of driving data training.
Even if these problems are ignored, it is difficult for vehicles to cope with all road conditions completely autonomously. Reports indicate that driverless technology can now handle 90% of regular road conditions, yet the remaining 10% takes 90% of the time to solve.
Not to mention 10%, even if only 1% of the risk of which car companies dare to assume this responsibility?
Because to the L4 level of autonomous driving, the vehicle has not required the driver to do any takeover, which means that once the accident responsibility can only be the car company.
The recent departure of Waymo CEO John Krafcik also sparked a lot of discussion in the self-driving circle, Waymo was the first to develop and launch Robotaxi, a number of technologies in the industry are one of the best, is the object of many self-driving car companies to benchmark.
Waymo’s unmanned cabs began operating in Phoenix in 2018. Yet John Krafcik has become increasingly pessimistic about the future of self-driving commercialization in recent years, going so far as to say in a speech in 2017 that
Even in the next few decades, self-driving cars will not be ubiquitous, and fully self-driving cars will be even less likely.
Of course, John Krafcik’s prediction may not come true. At least some domestic self-driving companies don’t agree, as Wen Yuan Zhixing’s chief operating officer Tension has said, although China’s self-driving development is nearly 10 years later than the United States, but because China’s road conditions are far more complex than those of the United States, the quality and quantity of road test data obtained is incomparable to that of the United States.
The development of China’s autonomous driving technology has indeed shown some hints of bending the curve, with four Chinese companies, including AutoX, Pony Smart, Wenyuan Zhixing and Drip, entering the top 10 of the MPI (average takeover mileage) list in the annual autonomous driving data released by Caltrans DMV for 2020.
Average takeover mileage is one of the core measures of autonomous driving. Peter Thiel, a leading Silicon Valley investor and author of Zero to One, says 2020 is only the first year of the 21st century, and the epidemic has been an unexpected catalyst for the new economy, new technologies, and new trends that have been rapidly established in just one year.
In addition to major breakthroughs in mRNA vaccine technology, the epidemic was the catalyst behind the start of large-scale road tests for autonomous driving. The particular scenario under the epidemic may not have lasted, but looking back years later, these two years may have been a key turning point for driverlessness to start becoming part of everyday life.
Posted by:CoinYuppie，Reprinted with attribution to:https://coinyuppie.com/when-driverless-cars-drive-into-the-eye-of-the-storm-of-the-epidemic-in-guangzhou/
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