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Chinese autonomous vehicle startup WeRide scores permit to test driverless cars in San Jose

WeRide, the Chinese autonomous vehicle startup that recently raised $310 million, has received a permit to test driverless vehicles on public roads in San Jose, California. WeRide is the seventh company, following AutoX, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro Waymo and Zoox, to receive a driverless testing permit.

In the early days of autonomous vehicle development, testing permits required human safety drivers behind the wheel. Some 56 companies have an active permit to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver. Driverless testing permits, in which a human operator is not behind the wheel, have become the new milestone and a required step for companies that want to launch a commercial robotaxi or delivery service in the state.

The California DMV, the agency that regulates autonomous vehicle testing in the state, said the permit allows WeRide to test two autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel on specified streets within San Jose. WeRide has had a permit to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers behind the wheel since 2017. WeRide is also restricted to how and when it tests these vehicles. The driverless vehicles are designed to operate on roads with posted speed limits not exceeding 45 miles per hour. Testing will be conducted during the day Monday through Friday, but will not occur in heavy fog or rain, according to the DMV.

To reach driverless testing status in California, companies have to meet a number of safety, registration and insurance requirements. Any company applying for a driverless permit must provide evidence of insurance or a bond equal to $5 million, verify vehicles are capable of operating without a driver, meet federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or have an exemption from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and be an SAE Level 4 or 5 vehicle. The test vehicles must be continuously monitored and train remote operators on the technology.

Driverless testing permit holders must also report to the DMV any collisions involving a driverless test vehicle within 10 days and submit an annual report of disengagements.

While the vast majority of WeRide’s operations are in China, the permit does signal its continued interest in the United States. WeRide, which is headquartered in Guangzhou, China, maintains R&D and operation centers in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Zhengzhou and Anqing, as well as in Silicon Valley. The startup, which was founded in 2017, received a permit in February to operate a ride-hailing operation in Guangzhou.

The company is one of China’s most-funded autonomous vehicle technology startups with backers that include bus maker Yutong, Chinese facial recognition company SenseTime and Alliance Ventures, the strategic venture capital arm of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi. Other WeRide investors include CMC Capital Partners, CDB Equipment Manufacturing Fund, Hengjian Emerging Industries Fund, Zhuhai Huajin Capital, Flower City Ventures and Tryin Capital. Qiming Venture Partners, Sinovation Ventures and Kinzon Capital.

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