Autonomous vehicle technology

Expert Voices

Didi seeks competitive edge with faster rollout of driverless pickup

Illustration of a hand holding a cellphone with the Didi Chuxing ap hailing a small fleet of cars, all in the shape of the Chinese flag
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Didi Chuxing, China's colossal ride-sharing company, is rolling out a self-driving pickup service on Chinese streets in the next few weeks — a gamble that could give the company an important edge in the global market.

Why it matters: The first company to put large numbers of self-driving cars on the road stands to gain two important advantages: reduced operating costs and real-world driving data for its algorithms, which will improve its autonomous driving systems.

Training real AI with fake data

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

AI systems have an endless appetite for data. For an autonomous car's camera to identify pedestrians every time — not just nearly every time — its software needs to have studied countless examples of people standing, walking and running near roads.

Yes, but: Gathering and labeling those images is expensive and time consuming, and in some cases impossible. (Imagine staging a huge car crash.) So companies are teaching AI systems with fake photos and videos, sometimes also generated by AI, that stand in for the real thing.