Changan Automobiles, one of China’s top five producers of motor vehicles, this week announced the mass production of its first self-driving car. Company officials say mass production of the ‘UNI-T’ model – with “conditional” self-driving capabilities – will begin in March.
The new flagship, four-door sedan, will be the first mass-produced L3 systems car in China, as other manufacturers scramble to win the race for full automation.
According to the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE), level 3 or L3 autonomy allows drivers to temporarily remove their hands from the wheel, and take their eyes off the road, at low speeds.
Level 3 autonomy still requires some driver intervention, and companies like Ford have argued against level 3 systems. Ford has said lapses in driver vigilance were a problem with self-driving motor vehicles. However, Changan and 11 other automotive companies, including BMW, have been approved to formulate new rating systems for driverless standards, which will take effect in 2021.
Chinese tech companies like Baidu have joined traditional motor vehicle manufacturers in researching driverless technology. The group spent over a billion Yuan ($142 million) on its new autonomous driving technology testing facility in the city of Chongqing.
The UNI-T sedan achieves L3 autonomy due to an array of sophisticated technology produced in-house. A computer processes live data from 12 ultrasonic radars, 5mm wave radar instruments and six cameras. This live feedback to the vehicle’s onboard system allows the UNI-T to make real-time adjustments to avoid potential obstacles.
While Changan has not said for what length of time true driverless autonomy is achievable, drivers may take their hands off the wheel on congested motorways for what the company describes as a “long time” while travelling at around 40kph.
Changan’s UNI-T also comes equipped with software that may save lives. A Safe Mode is initiated when the UNI-T’s computer system detects a lack of driver input during situations where it is required. Once the safe mode is engaged, after a period of no driver intervention, the car will be pulled over, the company said.
The state-owned company has performed rigorous testing of the new UNI-T. Cars installed with L3 capabilities have logged over 50 million kilometres of road testing, including busy public roads in Beijing and Chongqing. UNI-T test models have experienced over 10 000 unique road conditions, according to Changan president, Zhu Huarong, in preparation for its first sales in June.