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MIT Technology Review

Beijing is letting its first driverless cars take to the roads

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Tech giant Baidu has been granted the first license for testing autonomous vehicles in China’s capital.

The news: Beijing officials gave Baidu license plates for its self-driving cars today. That’s one way of saying that the company will soon take its autonomous vehicles out for a drive on the city’s roads.

Challenging conditions: With pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, and cars jostling for space, Beijing’s roads will be incredibly complex for robotic vehicles to navigate. That’s especially true by comparison with the kinds of suburban roads that many American autonomous cars have been tackling.

Safety questions: That complexity is more notable than ever this week given the Uber crash, in which a pedestrian was killed by one of the firm’s driverless cars. That accident has prompted many experts to question the pace at which self-driving technology is being deployed.

China vs. US: Companies such as Baidu are in a tight race against American counterparts to apply this technology in the real world. For now, the Chinese government has voted for full speed ahead with self-driving cars.