China’s Didi Chuxing (DiDi) has introduced an on-demand autonomous taxi service in a Shanghai suburb.

The test robotaxi service was launched following the installation of key Vehicle to Everything (V2X) hardware at main junctions within the area to enable the self-driving vehicles to interact with the surroundings and minimise safety blind spots.

Under the service, customers can book a free ride within the test area. The open-traffic area includes Shanghai’s Automobile Exhibition Center, the local business districts, subway stations and hotels in downtown Shanghai.

DiDi CTO and autonomous driving unit CEO Bob Zhang Bo said: “We will start with a mixed dispatch model that breaks out current geo-fence limitations.

“Autonomous driving needs to move beyond being a novel but limited experience to become a reliable and efficient daily mobility option for the general public in highly complex real-world environment.”

As an on-demand transportation and services platform, DiDi provides more than ten billion trips per year in the form of ride-hailing, taxi-hailing, two-wheelers, automobile solutions, food delivery, courier services, and others.

Launched in 2016, the company’s autonomous unit employs around 400 people. It holds testing licenses in the US city of California and in Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou in China. Nearly a month ago, DiDi raised more than $500m for its autonomous driving unit.

DiDi founder and CEO Cheng Wei said: “AI in transportation will no doubt revolutionise safety and efficiency of the urban transit system. DiDi’s biggest strengths are in our rich use cases, data capabilities and a strongest long-term commitment to what we believe to be a clear direction of the future.

“It will be a long way and takes at least a decade of continued investment, before AV technology passes critical technology, business and regulatory milestones; but we are determined to tackle the challenges ahead.”