Autonomous driving: You saw it, we tried it

It’s one thing to see an autonomous vehicle sitting parked in a trade show – in this case CE China. But you don’t really get an idea of how it works. 

To change that, WeRide, based in Guangzhou, took us for a ride from our hotel to their head office, with a tour of the latter – in a fully autonomous car – on of a number that are being tested on Bio Island in Guangzhou. But they are also travelling out into denser traffic around the city, where machine learning enables cars to learn how they should react in unfamiliar situations, much as a young driver learning how to drive in a busy city. 

All the cars are current in “test” mode, meaning they only transport staff of WeRide, selected “lucky” officials, and an occasional journalist. The company is testing in this way both in Silicon Valley and in Canton. 

There is still a person behind the wheel, for safety reasons, keeping his hands within grabbing distance of the wheel. This is an essential precaution that is imposed while the test phase is under way. 

Our car travelled around a kilometre from the Mulian hotel in Guangzhou to the WeRide HQ, doing U-turns, stopping for traffic lights, and even manoeuvring around a watering truck, which causes us to go over a white line, which the car first stopped, thought about, then did carefully. 

Eventually the cars will be able to be hired much along the same lines of Uber – but logically one day with no driver. On an app, the user will see where his car is, and how long it will take to get to him or her. The car will drive up and take them to where they want to go, and head on to the next fare. 

Speaking to the PR team at WeRide, we were told that they are working with a number of manufacturers to bring about viable autonomous vehicles in the coming years. 

Bristling with sensors on the roof and bonnet, a screen in the car indicates where all other vehicles are around the car, and what they are doing, along with traffic lights, road signs, and so on. We were asked not to film in the car, however videos can be seen here: 

30min Self-driving Test Ride on Open Urban Road

Silicon Valley Highway Road-test (End to End Autonomous Driving)

Overall, the experience is very comfortable, and at no time does one feel insecure. One thing’s sure. The more cars that are out on the road like this, the less road rage we’ll be seeing. We can’t imagine an angry robot.