China Has The U.S. Beat On Autonomous Driving

Photo: XPeng
Photo: XPeng

Here in the United States, we’re big fans of throwing good money after bad when it comes to self driving. Myriad companies with myriad approaches are all trying to tackle the problem, looking at it from every conceivable angle in hopes that one of them will condense the chaos of human action into something easily understood by an algorithm. China, however, takes a different approach: Making sure every car understands, as best as possible, what’s happening around it. According to new tests, that’s the winning move.

Wired writer Mark Andrews tested three Chinese vehicles equipped with semi-autonomous functionality and found them superior to comparable American self-driving systems. The reasons, it seems, boil down to a single feature that American passenger cars have yet to implement: Lidar. From Wired:

On the flip side, Tesla and General Motors have been grabbing most of the recent headlines when it comes to self-driving cars in the hands of the public, and for all the wrong reasons—mass recalls, suspended licenses, spending cuts, and huge losses.

But in China, a number of companies are steadily—and far more successfully—moving toward a similar destination, but via a different route.


Tesla’s Elon Musk has been vehement in his dismissal of the need for lidar and has now even removed radars from US market models. However, recently he has admitted that Tesla is testing a custom-designed radar, but then insisted that there are no plans to integrate it. In China, the US-listed trio is taking an approach that embraces a variety of sensors, most notably including lidar.


The full piece has individual reviews of three competing Chinese-developed systems for automotive autonomy (NIO’s NOP+, Li Auto’s NOA, and XPeng’s XNGP) and all three are well worth the read. Even with lidar, these offerings are inferior to the perception and reactivity of a human driver, but they’re closer than we’ve yet gotten over here — and they certainly aren’t dragging people around beneath the cars.

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