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China urged to relax mapping restrictions for autonomous vehicles

Thu 2 Mar 2017

The Chinese car manufacturer Geely has called on Beijing to loosen current restrictions on mapping within the nation, as these may threaten progress on the evolution of self-driving cars.

Speaking to reporters in the capital on Thursday Li Shifu, the head of the auto-maker’s listed unit and controlling group, revealed that he has offered the Chinese government a proposal policy for the ‘prudent’ liberalisation of mapping restrictions.

Li said: “The development of driverless cars in China needs the support of precision digital maps,” and continued “I hope the country can profoundly open up mapping.”

Li also expressed concern about the tacit advantage that the relatively unregulated U.S. research sector has in developing the kind of geographical databases which will prove essential for the safety and promotion of autonomous vehicle technologies – most notably in the U.S. He commented “If we want to guess, (driverless cars) will first be widely used in the U.S.,” and continued. “Then Chinese people will say, ‘the U.S. is using them? We should use them too’.”

The mapping in question is not primarily concerned with China’s sporadic restrictions on satellite photography, but ground-based surveying of the mainland. Four articles in China’s Surveying and Mapping Law of the People’s Republic of China legislation have specifically prohibited the generation of ‘significant geographic information and data’ in Chinese territory since 2002, and the kind of sensor-based information that SDVs can generate fall under this mandate.

The current wave of research into autonomous vehicles is placing increasing reliance on the petabytes of data sent back over millions of miles of journeying – most particularly in the case of Tesla, which currently has the greatest possibilities for developing crowd-contributed road and geographic data – a potential goldmine which would be unlikely to receive such unrestricted license in China.

In consequence of the license restrictions, many Chinese research interests have sought partnerships with (largely) government-backed entities which already possess significant survey data under authority. SAIC Motor Corp has partnered with Alibaba, whilst BYD, BAIC and Chery have struck data-sharing deals with Baidu.

Although Geely now owns Volvo, it has not yet struck a data partnership of this kind.


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