Chinese company gives California workers free rides in self-driving robotaxis

The same city that converted a used Tesla Model S into a police car is shuttling its city employees to work in self-driving cars.

China-based Pony.ai launched a self-driving car pilot program in Fremont, California, on Tuesday. If that city sounds familiar, it’s where Tesla built its very first factory. One of Fremont’s police cars is actually a Model S

Now the city’s employees can snag a driverless ride to and from the city’s Amtrak and train station to city hall and other city offices. It won’t cost them anything to be part of the pilot program. 

The rides in the marked Pony.ai cars —which are outfitted with sensors and cameras on the roof — are only available to a select group on the Fremont city payroll. Also, the robotaxis aren’t completely driverless yet. A safety driver will be in the front seat monitoring the ride and equipment.

It’s similar to the on-demand robotaxi service that Pony.ai launched in November in Irvine, California, which is mostly used by students. Pony.ai also operates autonomous services in Beijing and its home city of Guangzhou, China. 

Why offer free rides? It helps the company test its tech and establish itself as an industry leader outside of China. This is Pony.ai’s first deployment in the AV hub of Silicon Valley where Waymo, Cruise, and others are based and actively testing.