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Urban Mobility Reinvented: Tencent’s Autonomous Driving Road Paves the Way to Greener Cities

Cities are beacons of opportunity where people can live, work, and play in thriving communities. The lynchpin to commerce, creativity, relationships, and culture, ease of movement and transport are integral to how well a city functions.

Getting transportation planning right, however, is tricky. According to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 68 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, up from 55 percent in 2018, adding another 2.5 billion people to cities.

This, combined with increasing numbers of cars on the road—U.S. vehicle registration is up 3 percent alone between 2018 and 2021—is already stressing transportation infrastructure and exacerbating traffic congestion. Declines in road safety and increases in pollution and carbon emissions seem like a foregone conclusion.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

By rethinking the concept of urban mobility, we can move toward safe, affordable, and accessible transport systems, ones that improve the health and wellbeing of the city and its environment in integrated, synchronized, and sustainable ways.

Innovation and Urban Challenges: A Fruitful Collision

Imagine stepping onto a minibus that drives itself. Once you’re in, it plans the best route to your destination. If you’re an older person who needs extra time or assistance, the minibus can adapt its route and stops on the spot, ensuring your ride is hassle-free. Meanwhile, movements are constantly monitored from a control center, where engineers can remotely address unforeseen situations that are beyond the scope of an autonomous vehicle.

This is the world that Tencent is envisioning through our WeCityX Future City Exploration Program. As part of an innovative smart mobility project, the team is testing self-driving minibuses within the bustling business park where Tencent’s headquarters are located in Beijing.

WeCityX team’s self-driving minibus.

The Smart Mobility Ecosystem

Typically, the main objective of autonomous driving projects is to enhance the vehicle’s ability to drive itself. Our project aims to create smarter environments where the vehicle, roads, and digital spaces all work together in real time.

Tencent’s smart mobility solution isn’t just about a single innovation. Rather, it’s a whole suite of technologies that operate harmoniously. From autonomous driving to 5G communications and digital twin technology, all these parts mesh into a single, unified system. The vehicles, roads, and cloud-based control center are all connected, sharing data, learning, and adapting in real time to get passengers from points A to B safely and conveniently, across healthier, less congested environments.

The WeCityX team is testing a self-driving minibus.

Autonomous Minibus: Safe and Precise Transportation

Tencent’s autonomous minibuses are fitted with LiDAR technology, a sophisticated detection system that acts like an extra pair of eyes, continuously scanning their surroundings for obstacles. The minibuses also have a unique ability to talk to each other and to the infrastructure around them, creating a communication network that learns and adjusts to its environment.

More than a safe ride, these minibuses offer a high-tech experience that encompasses AR and VR. Inside, passengers can enjoy audio-visual entertainment or shop the way they might on some planes.

Driver’s vision in the self-driving minibus.

The Twin That Manages Traffic and Congestion

Imagine having a special mirror. But instead of your reflection, it reveals the park’s traffic. That’s what a digital twin does. A real-time digital traffic monitor, it takes in data from vehicles, roads, and specialized equipment to provide an overview of the traffic situation.

This technology could transform autonomous driving. It provides crucial traffic information to the minibuses, allowing routes to be adjusted based on live traffic patterns. In the future, it could even monitor energy use and environmental conditions, offering versatile use cases for smart cities.

The real-time digital traffic monitor.

5G Technology for Rapid Communication and Response

5G technology is a cornerstone for fast and reliable communication within this system, linking vehicles and the control center in real time. The technology ensures an instantaneous exchange of information. That’s crucial for the safety and efficiency of remote operations, and allows vehicles to respond immediately to instructions from the control center.

Supported by advanced audio and video technology, this ultra-fast communication helps to keep passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists safe, and makes remote control as responsive as if someone were physically driving the vehicle.

The Road to Better Transportation for All!

At Tencent, we’re working on smart urban mobility solutions that can make our cities better and more efficient, with fewer traffic jams, lower emissions, safer roads, and less time commuting.

The result could be more productive, sustainable, inclusive and dynamic cities, where people have more time to enjoy life. Fasten your seatbelts.