CHINA WANTS CONTROL
Tough Road for Self-Driving Cars in China
China is creating roadblocks for U.S. auto makers and tech companies to bringing self-driving cars to the world’s largest auto market. Citing national security concerns, China is limiting the amount of mapping that can be done by foreign companies, as GM, Ford, Alphabet, and Apple rush to develop self-driving cars or the software behind them. High-definition maps are crucial for autonomous cars to help them discern their exact location, navigate tricky intersections, and avoid fixed objects such as buildings.
Global car makers already need to collaborate with a local company to open factories in China, but some are skeptical they will be able to find a way to operate their autonomous-car software in China because of the mapping restrictions. It seems like self-driving cars are the future of automobile transportation, so how long will it take for these companies to reach an agreement with China? The risk that self-driving cars impose on manufacturers make it necessary that they have all the pertinent details to operate effectively on the road.
Brian McClendon, an industry pioneer who helped create Google Maps and later headed up to Uber Technologies self-driving effort said he doubted U.S. software would ever be adopted for self-driving cars in China. “We’re going to have a bifurcated market for self-driving cars – China will do China, and the U.S. will do U.S. and the rest of the world will quickly choose and do one or the other,” said McClendon, now a research professor at the University of Kansas.
To secure turn-by-turn navigation maps, foreign car makers currently work with Chinese mapping companies. But auto makers and tech companies might have reasons to hesitate before working with a third-party map provider in China on the high-definition maps needed by autonomous cars.
James Wu, co-founder of U.S. mapping startup DeepMap Inc., who formerly worked at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Apple and China’s Baidu Inc., said ownership of mapping data is crucial in self-driving cars. “If a non-Chinese company works with a Chinese local map company with a license, then who owns the data? Who would be responsible for safety issues, privacy issues, security issues associated with the map data? It is a pretty messy problem to sort out,” Wu said. Apple and Ford declined to comment on the issue of mapping data in China. Alphabet’s autonomous-driving unit, Waymo, didn’t reply to an email seeking comment.
Keep those stops tight
Todd “Bubba” Horwitz