Beijing, China — On a rainy day in the mid-of November in Hubei province, China, racing cars were running on the Xiangyang Dream Formula track. The strange thing was the cars had no drivers behind the wheel. Instead of sitting behind the steering wheel, drivers were standing not too far behind the start line. Actually, they are engineering students of the Chinese universities who were participating the 2017 Formula Student China sponsored by Aiways. Seven teams brought driverless cars to the Formula Student China competition. The Organizing Committee introduced the driverless formula car race this year.
“The driverless car race is becoming popular in China,” said Kuang Shu Chi(匡书池), a new member of Hefei Technology University’s Formula Student driverless team.
Kuang Shu Chi(匡书池), 24, switched his major from a machinery engineering to autonomous car because of growing the demand.
China’s driverless car market is expected to reach 200 billion RMB in 2020, and there will be around 8.6 million autonomous vehicles on the road by 2035, according to the China Industrial Information Network. This forecast has not only inspired thousands of students like Kuang Shu Chi(匡书池), but also hundreds of start-ups like KITTCAMP to enter driverless car industry in China.
KITTCAMP, a newly founded tech-startup, provides the online discussion forum, offline practice for the engineering community with more than 400 members who focused on driverless cars. It was inspired by Knight Rider, an American famous TV show among the 80’s. KITT, short for “Knight Industries Two Thousand”, the car boasted artificial intelligence of the Knight Rider.
Baidu, the Chinese search engine giant, has announced a 10 billion RMB “Apollo Fund” for investing more than 100 autonomous driving projects. Besides, another $929 million was invested in driverless technology, including self-driving vehicles in China for the first quarter of 2017, according to CB Insights research firm.
But “Finding investment is getting harder for tech start-ups because of competition in such a dynamic market.” said Feng Yue（馮悦）, co-founder of KITTCAMP. “Even though our company has been working about eight months, we have already collaborated with more than dozens of driverless cars’ start-ups,” he added. “I am quite confident to become an essential piece of self-driving cars billion-dollar market, China especially has a significant potential to develop driverless cars.”
KITTCAMP have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise 100 thousand RMB which is equal to one percent of its value. Kuang Shu Chi(匡书池), one of the small investors of the crowdfunding, bought 0.1 percent of KITTCAMP stock for 1000 RMB with 18 months to maturity.
“When I face problems related to the development of self-driving cars, I can find solutions in a way to ask the questions among the engineering community which built by KITTCAMP,” he said over Wechat interview.
Under the “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” by China’s State Council, China intends to have become the world’s premier AI innovation center by 2030. China set up three national test sites for self-driving cars in Shanghai, Beijing and Chongqing, which aim to facilitate R&D, standard studies and policy formulation.
Zhongguancun(中关村), a tech hub in Beijing, is becoming a national technology innovation center, formerly known as an electronics shopping market. The congested vendors with full of tech gadget are replaced by western style offices like open sharing space. For instance, Dinghao(鼎好), one of the biggest electronics shopping center in Zhongguancun(中关村), turned into a tech start-up incubator named “TechCode”. More than a hundred tech start-ups, mainly focused on AI, are sharing spaces at “TechCode”, one of them is KITTCAMP.
From the students to the start-ups, the start-ups to the tech giants, the tech giants to the government — China is keen to ride the autonomous car wave for new growth. Regarding regulation, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is at the early steps of drafting a management policy of “smart” transports on public roads and had completed an edge of road-test regulations for autonomous vehicles, according to the Caixin’s report. Michael Dunne, president at Dunne Automotive, told CNBC that China could set up self-driving car industry faster than the United States, and that could be due to its ability to make regulatory decisions quickly.