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A day within the lifetime of a Chinese robotaxi driver


Robotaxi security operator is an occupation that exists solely in our time, the results of an evolving know-how that’s superior sufficient to do away with a driver—more often than not, and in managed environments—however not adequate to persuade authorities that they’ll put off human intervention altogether. Today, self-driving firms from the US, Europe, and China are racing to deliver the know-how to industrial software. Most of them, together with Apollo, the self-driving arm of Baidu, have began on-demand robotaxi trials on public roads however nonetheless have to function with varied constraints.

With an affiliate diploma in human assets, Liu has no educational coaching associated to this job, But he has at all times beloved driving, and he acted as the motive force for his boss in a earlier function. When he heard concerning the self-driving applied sciences, his curiosity pushed him to lookup associated jobs on-line and apply. Today Liu, who has a buzz minimize, a heat smile, and a particular Beijing accent, “drives” a robotaxi 5 days per week in Shougang Park, a 3.3-square-mile former energy plant in Beijing that has been redeveloped right into a vacationer attraction after serving as a sports activities venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics. His automobile can’t depart the park, which was designated as a trial space for robotaxis, so his passengers are often staff who work there or vacationers visiting on weekends.

But Liu additionally wants to consider his subsequent steps, as his job will probably be eradicated inside a couple of years. He has been by means of a number of robotaxi fashions and coverage modifications in his 19-month profession as a security operator. In April 2021, Baidu acquired the license to place the protection operator within the entrance passenger seat as an alternative of the motive force’s seat (solely inside Shougang Park), and Liu subsequently switched his place and mentioned goodbye to the steering wheel. On July 21 this 12 months, Baidu revealed its new robotaxi mannequin whose steering wheel could be eliminated. It is anticipated to be in operation in 2023.

MIT Technology Review talked to Liu Yang in June. We requested him about how he got here to get this job, what his every day life is like, and what the long run holds for an occupation designed to vanish quickly.

The interview has been translated from Chinese and edited for readability.

How did you resolve to turn out to be a security operator for a self-driving taxi?

It was fairly a coincidence. Back once I was parking the automobile for an previous boss, I didn’t know what self-driving was and noticed that his automobile had a self-parking perform. I used to be tremendous, tremendous curious. It was actually fascinating once we odd folks attempt it for the primary time. After that, I needed to know extra.

How lengthy have you ever been driving?

Twelve, 13 years.

Did you keep in mind what the interview course of was like?

I used to be extraordinarily nervous once I went for the interview. We had two rounds, a face-to-face interview and a street check. I believe the street check for self-driving [operators] is harder than the street check for getting a driver’s license. When you’re studying how one can drive, you might want to have a look at your left, your proper, and the rearview mirror; however once we are taking the check [for Baidu], you might want to take note of all of the instructions, in addition to what each automobile in entrance of or behind you is doing. Maybe it should all of a sudden change lanes and impression you.

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