The number of vehicles in California with people actually driving may soon be outnumbered those with humans sitting behind the wheel in the event an emergency as another company, SF Motors, announced it has begun autonomous vehicle testing in the Golden State.
The company, which received approval from the California DMW to begin the testing in December, is now testing vehicles on public roads. The company joins several others, including Tesla and Waymo, that can run vehicles around the streets of California.
“On the heels of receiving our autonomous vehicle test permit in California, we believe this is the ideal time to begin putting our research to the test as we prepare to unveil our intelligent electric vehicles equipped with advanced autonomous and connectivity systems,” said John Zhang, CEO of SF Motors.
SF Motors, which is owned by China’s Sokon Industry Group, has been working quietly to grow the company through a mix of in-house development and strategic acquisitions. It has a founding member of Tesla, Martin Eberhard, on its team through its purchase of InEVit, an EV battery modularization startup.
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“To compete in the global EV market, we’ve placed a considerable investment in research and development and because our technology is at the core of our vehicles. We’re humbled to see our technology be deployed in our backyard and see the future of our advanced systems as exceptionally bright,” Zhang added.
The company also purchased the former AM General plant in Mishawaka, Indiana, and plans to keep the plants 430 employees to help build vehicles for the U.S. out of that facility. It also has a plant in Chongqing, China, and plans to build vehicles there as well. The company claims to be the only autonomous EV maker to have plants in both China and the U.S.
The company has research and development facilities in China, Germany and the United States. Another facility will come on online in Japan next year. The company’s corporate headquarters is in Santa Clara, California.
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However, the company’s been moving along since it was founded in January 2016. By the end of that year, it finalized a multi-year $2.5-million agreement with the University of Michigan to conduct proprietary joint research on advanced automated driving systems.
Using U-M’s “M-City” testing facility helped accelerate the company’s developing, including progress in heterogeneous sensor fusion, multi-object detection and tracking, and high-performance vehicle motion control. In fact, the company is continuing to test its vehicles in Michigan as well as California and in China with an eye toward 2020 to “achieve protected autonomy,” said Yifan Tang, SF Motors’ chief technology officer.
“We will utilize our strength in system integration as well as supplier partnerships to overcome the many challenges in bringing autonomous driving to the global markets.”
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The company plans to publicly announce and unveil its intelligent electric concept vehicle for global markets at an event scheduled for late March in Silicon Valley. But its timeframe puts it on track to compete with automakers like Tesla, General Motors and others that are currently in the testing phase of their autonomous systems.