One of the largest corporations in the world to invest in self-driving cars, Chinese big tech Baidu presented figures in early June revealing that traffic accidents are reduced by more than 90% in trips involving self-driving vehicles. The information is based on a study that analyzed 115,000 trips made by autonomous taxis using the Apollo system, Baidu’s navigation technology.
The data compares the average number of accidents —mild, moderate and severe— generated per 115,000 urban trips by human-driven vehicles versus recorded incidents, in an equal volume of trips by cars driven by systems with an automation level of at least , L4. The acronym “L4” indicates that driverless vehicles are able to choose less congested routes and respond to system failures and unforeseen interactions with other vehicles.
In addition to the significantly lower accident average, in the neighborhoods and regions where autonomous vehicles were tested, traffic was reduced, on average, by 20%.
This is due to the fact that the autonomous fleet exchanges information with each other, with mobile devices from “normal” cars and with smart traffic lights. In practice, the Apollo cars’ artificial intelligence center is able to combine characteristics such as speed, routes and synchronization with headlights in order to speed up the movement of cars through cities.
In large Chinese cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen, citizens who want to buy their first car must submit to a kind of “lottery”, in which “new car license plates” are released every month. This is due to the high population density of these metropolises and the strict control of local governments over the addition of new vehicles to the cities’ fleet.
According to Robin Li, founder of Baidu, at a company conference in late 2021, these sweepstakes may stop happening within a period of up to 10 years, when cloud computing technologies, stable mobile broadband ( 5G or 6G) and artificial intelligence reach greater maturity.
In this scenario, the streets would be able to “absorb” 80% more vehicles than they currently do, as smart cars “combine” routes, schedules and traffic behavior with each other.
More than increasing the displacement capacity of vehicles, the popularization of shared, autonomous and non-polluting energy-powered cars should decrease the demand for individual car ownership, which could contribute, in the opinion of experts, to a better flow of people in large Chinese cities.