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Will AI free Beijing from traffic jams in the near future?

With a population of more than 30 million, Beijing citizens face traffic congestion on a regular basis despite the government’s great efforts to maintain a smooth traffic flow, such as car usage limitations, tolls, and public transport subsidies.

China aims to race ahead of everyone in electrified and autonomous vehicles, according to the Technology Road Map for Energy Saving and New Energy Vehicles published in December 2016 by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and China’s Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE China).

In this 450-page draft plan, China has made ambitious plans for autonomous vehicles: partially-autonomous cars (driver assist) are to account for 50 percent of sales by 2020; highly-automated cars will account for 15 percent of sales in 2025 and fully autonomous vehicles are to take up 10 percent of sales by 2030.

When it comes to autonomous vehicles, the Chinese government has been pushing for home-grown driverless cars, and Chinese private companies are in hot pursuit of the new technology. Great progress has been made, as industry and government join hands.

On January 6 at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, BAIC Group Chairman Xu Heyi said in an interview that Baidu Inc. and BAIC Motor’s collaboration on telematics and autonomous driving is almost ready for its coming-out moment. And BAIC-built model equipped with Baidu tech will debut in April at the Shanghai Auto Show. The two companies also plan to conduct road testing of a car that will be autonomous in limited environments by the end of this year.

Baidu is teaming up with NVIDIA to use artificial intelligence to build a platform for self-driving cars. It has been testing its autonomous vehicles in eastern Chinese cities including Wuhu and Shanghai and earned a permit from California to test in the state last year.

Last year, Baidu formed a self-driving car team in Silicon Valley and has employed more than 100 researchers and engineers by the end of 2016. And it’s in a process of establishing a new research center near Seattle to focus on artificial intelligence and cloud computing and security.

BAIC, owned by the local government of Beijing, has made progress of its own. The automaker whose joint venture partners include Daimler AG and Hyundai Motor Co. in April let customers ride in self-driving cars on a test track.

According to Sixth Tone, top scientists said last November at a lecture at New York University’s Shanghai campus that autonomous vehicles will aide smoother traffic flow. Wang Feiyue, director of the State Key Laboratory for Management and Control of Complex Systems, is certain that Beijing will no longer see traffic jams in five years’ time as they begin implementing AI in everyday tasks, including transportation, the article noted.

AI scientists believe that self-driving cars are able to drive smoothly and avoid sudden slowdowns and collisions that cause traffic congestion.

Currently, self-driving cars are banned on public roads in China. But as Forbes said last December, China “will be reluctant to forbid semi-autonomous cars completely.”

“The country has too much at stake, it has invested heavily in autonomous technology and urges its automakers and tech companies to develop autonomous cars,” the article pointed out. “Unlike other countries, China has the capacity to drive the market from the top down and create the right circumstances for self-driving cars,” Bill Russo, automobile consultant from Gao Feng Advisory Co., was quoted as saying.

And according to Yu Kai, founder of the Institute of Deep Learning – China’s first AI research and development center – the country’s auto industry is anticipating the commercialization of autonomous vehicles as Chinese consumers are beginning to expect cars to be connected devices.

Therefore, with today’s advancements in science and technology, efforts by automakers and government’s support, freeing Beijing from traffic jams by AI in the near future is certainly not impossible.

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