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China's AutoX, Pony.ai First To Offer Robotaxis In US

AutoX and Pony.ai are now the first Chinese companies allowed to offer self-driving robotaxis in the state of California.

The California Public Utilities Commission posted notices on its website this week that both companies have been issued permits. But while more than 62 companies hold permits to test autonomous vehicles in the state, few are allowed to transport people in them. Zoox was the first to get permission to provide robotaxi services in California six months ago, and now AutoX and Pony.ai have been given the green light to join the state's pilot program.

However, the permits for all three companies is for the “Drivered AV Passenger Service,” which prohibits them from charging passengers for test rides and requires a safety driver behind the wheel at all times.

In the meantime, AutoX has introduced California’s first robotaxi service, with people in north San Jose or Santa Clara able to apply to join its early-rider program and provide feedback. A spokesperson for Pony.ai told TechCrunch that the company has also started offering driverless passenger services.

Of course, these three firms aren't the only ones testing out self-driving technology. Alphabet’s Waymo launched a passenger service in Phoenix last December with a trained test driver behind the wheel. While Waymo is allowed to charge passengers, it can only shuttle a select group of people. And earlier this week the company confirmed that it has started testing self-driving Jaguar I-Pace vehicles on public streets around its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Still, companies are proceeding with caution after Uber’s self-driving test vehicle struck and killed a woman in Temple last year, which led the rideshare giant to suspend its test drives. And Momenta, the first Chinese autonomous driving startup to pass $1 billion in valuation, requires all of its executives to ride a minimum number of autonomous miles themselves.

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