China’s Didi Chuxing (DiDi) has raised more than $500m for its autonomous driving subsidiary through a fundraising round.

The round was led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2.

In a statement, DiDi said that this is the first time that its autonomous driving business had secured external funding.

The ride hailing company plans to use the new proceeds to invest in the research and development of autonomous driving technology and testing to further improve safety and efficiency in operations.

It will also help the company to expedite the introduction of autonomous driving services in certain areas. The plan involves launching self-driving operations in select locations in China and abroad.

In addition, DiDi aims to strengthen collaborations with foreign auto industry partners for the mass production of autonomous driving vehicles.

Headquartered in Beijing, DiDi started the development and testing of self-driving vehicles in 2016.

The company holds open-road testing licences in California in the US and the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou.

Currently, the autonomous driving unit is working with DiDi’s auto solutions platform Xiaoju Automobile Solutions and DiDi Finance to explore next-generation integrated mobility solutions.

DiDi also announced plans to utilise transportation data from its platform to carry out simulation tests to improve research and development efficiency.

Investments in the autonomous driving technology companies remained popular despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google’s parent firm Alphabet, raised $750m last month. The funding was an extension to the $2.25bn financing round announced in March 2020.