Self-driving startup QCraft’s autonomous bus pilot project has begun operating in an eastern Chinese city. This is a fine example of local entrants trying to become the first to make driverless transport commonplace in the country.
Two-year-old QCraft, backed is by tech giants Bytedance and Meituan. It currently operates a fleet of around 70 self-driving mini-buses in several major cities, including Shenzhen and Wuhan. It is the largest fleet of its kind in China.
Now, with the launch of a robobus project in the downtown area of Wuxi, the company is expanding its footprint. Wuxi is a city in the eastern Jiangsu province, which started taking local residents on rides in October.
QCraft initially deployed five robobuses for three routes totaling 15 kilometers (9.3 miles). The company said its pilot service covers a range of about 10 square kilometers in the busiest portions of the city. Furthermore, it connects major shopping centers and subway stations to residential properties.
The driving experience and performance of QCraft’s autonomous bus
The electric mini-bus model, called Longzhou One, is equipped with an extensive self-driving sensor suite. This sensor suite includes five Lidar units, four front cameras, and two millimeter-wave radar units. Therefore, it is capable of seeing objects from long distances of up to 250 meters.
The self-driving buses still have a driver to reassure passengers and comply with government rules. The driver took control of the vehicle once during a 15-minute ride when a large bus zoomed past it in the overtaking lane.
The buses typically travel between 30-50 km/h (19-31 mph) and are currently programmed on fixed routes. Each bus carries a maximum of nine passengers and has a driving range of up to 200 km (124 miles) on a single charge.
Passengers can access real-time transit information from the company’s app on their phones. The buses operate from 9 am to 6 pm on weekdays, which the company said will meet the needs of nearby residents with their daily commute.
After receiving $100 million from reputable investors, including Meituan and Jack Ma’s YF Capital, QCraft is on track to expand its test fleet to more than 100 vehicles by year-end.