China’s ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing will unveil self-driving taxis soon in the commercial capital Shanghai before a national rollout. The pilot service will be tried in the city’s Jiading district.

Didi, also known as China’s Uber, commands a user base of 550 million customers and is the largest ride-hailing company in the country.

This was revealed by Didi’s Chief Technology Officer Zhang Bo on Friday at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai.

The conclave has been sending the latest artificial intelligence news around innovative projects.

The ride-hailing company said it would expand the scheme outside China by 2021.

 Under the Didi self-driving taxi pilot service, passengers in the city’s Jiading district can book rides through Dido’s app and will be picked up by a self-driving car.

Mixed deployment model

According to Zhang Bo, more than 30 different types of car models will be deployed in the pilot service backed by Level-4 autonomous driving capabilities.

Despite the status of the Robo taxis fleet, the cars will also have human drivers. The rides will be free of charge. 

There will be a mixed dispatching model during pilot service, by which both autonomous vehicles and human-driven cars will pick up passengers based on the road conditions.

Ambitious plans ahead

The China news says Didi received official permits to test its self-driving fleet on Wednesday from the Shanghai government.

Going forward Didi hopes to ply its Robo-taxis in three Chinese cities--Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen by 2020.

The Didi Chuxing Robo taxis will be expanded outside China by 2021, the CTO added.

Didi recently hived off its self-driving unit in a bid to refine its business model and an IPO is also said to be in the works.

In February, Didi’s CEO Cheng Wei said the company’s primary focus is ride-hailing, and all non-core businesses would be merged or cut altogether.

Didi has set up the autonomous driving unit into an independent company for a bigger focus on research and collaboration with automakers.

Earlier Baidu news highlighted the search engine’s initiatives for launching self-driving cars. The start-up Pony.ai also hogged attention for its Robo taxi plans and its alliance with Toyota.

Meanwhile, a KPMG index on preparedness for autonomous vehicles has ranked China at the 20th position in a list of 25 countries. The United States is placed at the fourth rank.