Pony.ai, a Chinese autonomous driving startup with an office in the U.S., has paused its driverless pilot fleet in California six months after it was approved by local regulators to test autonomous vehicles without a human safety driver.
On November 19, the California Department of Motor Vehicles notified Pony.ai that it was suspending its driverless testing permit following a reported collision in Fremont on October 28, the DMV told TechCrunch in a statement.
Pony.ai has 10 Hyundai Kona electric cars registered under its driverless testing permit. This suspension does not impact Pony.ai’s permit for testing with a safety driver, said the DMV.
According to Pony.ai’s collision report, the incident took place on a clear morning when its driverless vehicle was changing lanes using the autonomous mode.
“Recently, one of our vehicles experienced an incident in Fremont, California, involving a collision with a lane divider and street sign. No other vehicles were involved and no injuries occurred,” a Pony.ai spokesperson told TechCrunch.
“We immediately launched an investigation, and are in contact with the California DMV about the incident,” the spokesperson said.
While other autonomous vehicles had reported crashes, most have occurred while the safety driver has been operating the vehicle manually or when another vehicle has struck an AV from behind. This incident stands out because the vehicle was in autonomous mode and didn’t involve any other vehicle.
The incident puts a question mark on Pony.ai’s autonomous driving capabilities. The startup’s AVs have “successfully driven over 750,000 real-world miles in California since 2017,” said its spokesperson.
Founded in 2016 by Baidu veterans, Pony.ai is among a group of AV startups that have R&D teams and testing fleets in both China and California. It has attracted heavyweight investors like Toyota and Sequoia Capital, with over $1 billion in total raise and a valuation of $5.3 billion as of February. Just recently, alongside Baidu, it was approved to operate commercial drivered autonomous cars within a demo zone in Beijing.
The company has also faced obstacles in recent months. It had halted plans to list through a SPAC in New York after failing to reassure Beijing it would not be targeted by the U.S. government, Reuters reported in August. Last month, TechCrunch reported that the company’s autonomous trucking business had lost a few key executives, leaving the newly minted unit in limbo. As competition heats up, the startup has a lot to prove to its investors that it has competitive technologies and a viable commercial future.