Pony.ai, a self-driving startup based in Silicon Valley and Guangzhou, China, is deepening its relationship with Toyota. The two companies announced a pilot program to test self-driving cars on public roads in two Chinese cities, Beijing and Shanghai. The Japanese auto giant plans to invest $ 400 million in Pony.ai and value the startup at $ 3 billion.
Pony.ai has been working with Toyota on public autonomous vehicle tests since 2019. With this new investment, their relationship becomes even closer, as the automaker and the startup “develop” mobility products such as “mobility services” together.
Pony.ai has been testing robot taxis in Beijing and Guangzhou as well as in Fremont and Irvine, California since the end of 2018. The startup claims to be the first company to launch an autonomous hailstorm operation and offer self-driving car trips to the public in China.
Toyota, the world's largest automaker, has largely kept its self-driving car program secret. The Japanese company has released some information about its test vehicles and the types of sensors used, but we have seen very little of the cars in operation. Toyota plans to offer a limited hail pilot in downtown Tokyo during the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The cars will be equipped with Toyota's "chauffeur" software, which the automaker previously described as "geared towards full autonomy," which essentially removes people from the driving equation, either completely in all environments or within a restricted driving range. “Toyota has a second product called“ Guardian, ”which is essentially an advanced driver assistance system that is similar to Tesla's autopilot. Neither is offered in a production car today.
The Toyota Research Institute, the automaker's Silicon Valley-based division, has been conducting tests in its closed facility in Ottawa Lake, Michigan, for several years. In 2018, Toyota agreed to invest $ 500 million in a joint self-driving project with Uber. Under the agreement, the two companies will work together to develop self-driving cars.