Robin Li, chairman of one of China's biggest tech firms Baidu Inc., believes driverless vehicles will hit the road within the next five years. Credit: People's Daily.

Self-driving cars will undoubtedly become safer than human drivers, Robin Li, chairman of one of China’s biggest tech firms Baidu Inc., claimed at the 2018 China Development Forum in Beijing, according to a Yicai Global report.

Driving automation is a top priority for the Beijing-based company, Tencent Finance quoted Li as saying. He believes driverless vehicles will hit the road within the next five years and is currently developing a self-driving minibus in partnership with state-owned carmaker Xiamen King Long Motor Group. The vehicle should hit the market in four months and initially be used at tourist sites and other enclosed areas.

An autonomous car developed by one of the world’s biggest ride-hailing firms Uber Technologies Inc. killed a passenger during a road test in the US last week. Commenting on the incident, the Chinese tech billionaire argued that many accidents take place on a daily basis, and that this was just one incident.

“A dog biting a man is not newsworthy, but a man biting a dog is,” he said, adding that people will realize over time that autonomous cars are actually safer than human drivers.

Chinese consumers are particularly interested in artificial intelligence products, Li continued. Some 83% of Chinese respondents in a Baidu survey said they approve of autonomous driving, a much larger portion than in other countries.

Meanwhile, driverless minibuses made their China debut on the open roads of Wuzhen city, eastern Zhejiang province, ferrying participants along a four-kilometer route to the World Internet Conference venue, Yicai Global reported.

Developed by Hangzhou-based BroadXT, the buses can seat eight passengers and have an autonomous driving level of T4, the second-highest difficulty level for driverless vehicles. Regulations still require that a driver is present, but does not need to interfere with the vehicle’s operation.

Using fifth-generation mobile network technologies, the minibuses can react to complex traffic conditions in 100 milliseconds, far quicker than human reaction times of between 300 and 400 milliseconds.

Over 30 smart sensors allow the bus to sense pedestrians, motor vehicles and other obstacles within 200 meters and to quickly respond by dodging, changing lanes, slowing or braking. The bus is also able to determine nearby traffic conditions through smart cloud technology and choose the most suitable route.

At the conference, 23 participants, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group as well as the elite Zhejiang and Tongji universities, set up a collaborative alliance to promote the commercialization of a smart connected transport system as well as regional integration in the Yangtze River Delta Region.

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