Experts believe the majority of Chinese electric cars are years behind in technology compared to the major competitors in the Western market. And while the Chinese electric cars are extremely popular at home due to their affordability due to very generous government backed subsidies, they cannot compete in the Western market. However, there are exceptions. NIO, the Chinese-backed startup formerly known as NextEV, which has been making headlines since their formation, plans to bring an autonomous electric car to the US by 2020, announced by their US CEO Padmasree Warrior on Friday. The Chinese-backed start up will be partnering with Israeli-based Mobileye, a company that develops camera-based systems which help drivers avoid collisions, Nvidia, one of two most famous technology companies that develops graphic cards in the gaming world, as well as system chips for the mobile computing and automotive market, and NXP Semiconductors, the world's largest chip supplier to the automotive industry.
Nvidia has developed an artificial intelligence computing platform that other auto makers, such as Audi are using to deploy their autonomous vehicles. NIO claims their autonomous vehicle will be able to achieve level 4 autonomy in the scale defined by the US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It ranges from level 0 to 5. At level 0, it is just regular driving, a driver (human) controls all functions of the vehicles which includes steering, braking, throttling, and so forth. Everything that we've been doing. At level 5, the vehicle is fully-autonomous and its vehicle performance is equal or greater than of a human driver in every driving scenario, which includes extreme environments such as dirt-roads and off-roading, a path which has not been navigated nor recorded before. This level of autonomy may require many more years of research to reach.
But at the level which NIO claims their vehicle will be able to reach, level 4, the vehicles are still considered full-autonomous. They are designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. However, they will be limited to the Operation Design Domain or ODD of the vehicle. The ODD may not cover every driving scenario, but may include all complete and recorded roadways. "The problem we're trying to solve with autonomy is that as we say 'giving people time back,'" said Warrior. "We addressing those people whose commute is a big issue." The vehicle will have a steering wheel and pedal so the "driver" can take over if they want. There is price announced yet, but experts believe the vehicle will be priced in the luxury segment since NIO is a luxury brand of vehicles. The company has recieved venture funding from Tencent, Temasek, Sequoia Capital, Lenovo and TPG.