Didi Upgrades Autonomous Driving Unit to Independent Company

China’s ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing (Didi) said on Aug. 4 that it has launched its autonomous driving unit as an independent company, which will focus on autonomous driving related research, product applications and business development.

Zhang Bo, Didi’s chief technology officer (CTO), has been named CEO of the new company.

“The new company wants to open up opportunities to build strategic relationships with automakers and industry partners, so as to push the commercialization of autonomous driving and to let everyone enjoy autonomous driving services,” Zhang said.

The separate entity will integrate Didi’s platforms and technologies while investing in key technologies. It will also explore collaboration with companies along the industry value chain.

As safety concerns have always been the Achilles heel of Didi and autonomous driving, the entity will try to build safety guidelines for self-driving by learning from its online hailing experiences and collaborating with both government and related parties.

The move highlights Didi’s ambition in the self-driving area. Didi has been building its autonomous driving team since 2016. With over 200 people employed in both China and the US, the division has formed professional teams working in areas including high resolution mapping, behavior prediction, data annotations and intelligent transportation.

“Autonomous driving will increase safety and efficiency a lot as to help cities develop in a more intelligent and continuous way. As technology serves people, it must be a combination of good tempered people and safe efficient autonomous vehicles to serve customers in various conditions. This is where tech meets services,” said Didi CEO Cheng Wei.

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Didi’s rival American ride-hailing app Uber did a similar restructuring in April when its self-driving unit Advanced Technologies Group received a $1 billion investment from Toyota, Denso, and SoftBank to build an autonomous fleet based on Toyota’s Sienna minivan.