A new self-driving car developer is coming to Tucson

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Pony.ai, a self-driving car developer based in China and Silicon Valley, will begin testing its self-driving vehicles in Tucson, with trained safety drivers behind the wheel, in partnership with Pima Community College.

According to Sun Corridor Inc., the Tucson-area economic development agency, Pony.ai will base its first and only Arizona operation at PCC’s new Automotive Technology and Innovation Center on its downtown campus.

Founded in 2016 by three veterans of Chinese internet giant Baidu in Silicon Valley, Pony.ai is based in Fremont, California, as well as Beijing and Guangzhou, China, where it also tests self-driving cars to develop autonomous taxi services.

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“Tucson is quickly becoming a leading city for tech startups and smart city technology, and Pony.ai is excited to expand our operations there,” said James Peng, co-founder and CEO of Pony.ai, in prepared remarks, adding that the City of Tucson, Sun Corridor and the Arizona Department of Transportation have helped make the company’s expansion in Tucson “seamless.”

Pony.ai, which is backed by Japanese car giant Toyota and other manufacturers, had been testing self-driving cars in California since 2021. But its state license was suspended after one of its cars suffered a minor crash in Fremont last October.

Arizona has become a hotbed for autonomous vehicle technology since Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order outlining a process for testing autonomous vehicles in 2015, which was followed by other orders and several laws authorizing testing. autonomous trucks and the delivery of autonomous vehicles. services.

TuSimple, a self-driving commercial truck developer founded by Chinese scientists and entrepreneurs, is testing its trucks on Interstate 10 with test drivers aboard a research center and terminal on the southeast side of Tucson since 2017.

Google’s Waymo has been testing self-driving taxis with drivers on board since 2017 in the Phoenix area.

“Pony.ai’s decision to select Tucson for its new autonomous passenger vehicle testing operations is further proof that Southern Arizona is an emerging player in the autonomous vehicle industry,” said the president and Sun Corridor CEO Joe Snell.

PCC partnered with TuSimple in 2019 to launch an “Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist” certificate program to train test drivers.

PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert said the school’s partnership with Pony.ai “aligns perfectly with our vision for the PCC Automotive Technology & Innovation Center to be at the forefront of new automotive technology.”

Self-driving vehicle testing in Arizona hasn’t been without its problems.

In 2018, a self-driving Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe. Although no other fatal crashes were reported, data released by the National Highway Traffic Administration in July showed about a dozen crashes involving self-driving vehicles in Arizona since reporting became mandatory in July 2021, with data available through May.

TuSimple is under federal investigation into an April non-injury crash of one of its trucks during a run from its main development center and terminal on the southeast side of Tucson.

Following the October crash of a Pony.ai test car, the company voluntarily recalled the software used in several cars after an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

California revoked Pony.ai’s license to test self-driving vehicles with a driver in May, citing a failure by the company to monitor the safety records of its test riders.

A spokesperson for Pony.ai did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the security of the company’s current testing operations or details about its planned testing program in Tucson.

The company claims that Pony.ai cars have traveled more than 9.3 million miles of self-driving testing and running around the world.

The private company secured a $400 million investment from Toyota in 2020 and claims a valuation of $8.5 billion.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at [email protected] or 520-573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz

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