(Yicai Global) Jan. 12 -- Chinese electric car maker BYD Company [SHE:002594; HKG:1211] is still working on a self-driving car prototype, but its straddle-beam monorail (SBM) -- known in Chinese as 'cloud track' -- trains will soon go run in some Chinese cities.
The company tested China's first autonomous SBM train in Yinchuan, capital of China's northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on Wednesday. The new rail transit system is slated for trial operation in the second quarter.
"At this stage we haven't set a target on the number of monorail projects to be implemented this year, but we're in talks with 20 cities. BYD has developed its own EV technology in recent years, especially in areas such as traction and motor control, and these technologies have been applied in SBM development. We think that we have had a good start to the year," the firm's chairman and President Wang Chuanfu said.
BYD partnered with Baidu Inc. to develop driving automation technology for new-energy vehicles, Wang told Yicai Global in an interview two years ago. As it turned out, however, he chose the SBM team to lead the charge in commercializing autonomous driving technology. It is easier to make laws and regulations for self-driving trains relative to cars, he explained, because trains have the exclusive right of way and pose no safety hazards to pedestrians.
Furthermore, SBM projects cost CNY100 million(USD15.4 million) to CNY200 million per kilometer and thus give the company greater leverage to drive earnings growth. Wang is bullish about the monorail market. China has 273 prefecture-level cities. Shantou in southeastern Guangdong province, for example, plans to build about 200 kilometers of rail transit facilities, with the total cost approximately CNY40 billion. If 200 prefectural cities decide to build similar mass rail transit networks in the next decade, the total market size is about CNY10 trillion, he stated.
BYD's Cloud Track system is fully autonomous and offers many unique features, such as super short security tracking intervals, autonomous driving against power failure, automatic diagnostics, system reactivation, real-time traffic monitoring and facial recognition, the firm noted.
Apart from the car maker's control and positioning technologies, the SBM system relies on efficient data transmission provided by the eLTE platform, a 4.5 gigabyte wireless communication solution developed by Huawei Technologies specifically for rail transit services. Driving automation is the brain of the autonomous train system, while the 4.5 gigabyte wireless communication technology makes fast and efficient data transmission possible. They must be seamlessly integrated to guarantee secure and reliable operation of the autonomous train service.