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Shanghai self-driving cabs offer smooth rides in early trial

Profitability and road safety still present challenges

Xiangdao Robotaxi was launched jointly by SAIC Motor, a major state-owned automaker, hailing app operator Xiangdao Chuxing, and self-driving system developer Momenta. (Photo by Noriyuki Doi) 

SHANGHAI -- Shanghai has begun to trial self-driving taxis within a few square kilometers in the city, as part of China's plan to launch such a service across the country by 2025. As part of this report, I took a ride in one of the those cabs recently.

First, some background. China rates self-driving technology over five levels. Level-4 cabs, which are the ones being trialed, can only operate specific routes, controlled by an artificial intelligence system. Level 5, the highest, refers to completely autonomous vehicles.

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