The Chinese government's tight restrictions on gathering data by foreign firms for 3D mapping, the lifeblood of machine-taught driverless systems, could at least slow down access to the market by Waymo, Tesla, General Motors (GM), Ford, and other players hoping to make inroads there.
Citing security concerns, companies headquartered outside of mainland China must form partnerships with local firms to collect the data, the Wall Street Journal Reports.
Having to share data gathering technologies with Chinese firms will likely raise a number of issues related to trade secret protections and software licensing.
Mapping involves complex algorithmic data-processing techniques, which typically cover road structure and damage, traffic patterns and conditions, and weather patterns, in addition to signages and other road objects. The data is transferred to a GPU and a neural networking computer platform, which graphics processor unit (GPU) maker Nvidia typically makes for most Level 3 and Level 4 vehicles now in development.
So far, US and European carmakers have publicly yet to voice their opinions about the restrictions. Geely, the parent company of Volvo Cars, which plans to offer Level 4 cars by 2021, is actively lobbying the Chinese government to become less strict about foreign firms mapping Chinese roads and streets. Geely says the restrictions could slowdown the development of driverless transportation in China, the Wall Street Journal reported.
While not stated by the Chinese government but obviously implied, imposing restrictions on foreign firms from entering the Chinese market could give Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, more time to develop its driverless program ahead of players such as Waymo and Tesla, which offers Level 2 self-driving features in cars you can buy, as well as Ford and General Motors (GM).
Baidu's driverless program has lost ground in the aftermath of at least two defections. They include Andrew Ng, adjunct professor of computer science at Stanford University, who left Baidu in March as chief scientist.
While it considers Waymo's and Apple's burgeoning driverless programs as potential competitive threats, Bosch, a leading established automotive supplier, sees strong demand for self-drive vehicle applications, as well as from from the electric car and connected driving sectors.
Arriva, a leading transportation company in Europe, is beginning to test driverless fleets in Denmark, following the creation of a car-sharing partnership with BMW in Copenhagen. The CEO of Infosys, a leading technology and consulting firm in India, arrived at an earnings conference in a driverless golf cart-like vehicle, after China's Baidu recently live streamed a video of CEO Robin Li riding a self-drive vehicle along the streets and highways of Beijing and his subsequent arrest.