23 June 2017

China: Put Self-driving Cars into Gear

This article was written by Mark Schaub(International Partner) and Atticus Zhao(Senior associate).

The PRC government continues to set the stage to develop self-driving cars.The latest salvo took place on 13 June 2017 when the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the Standardization Administration of China (SAC) jointly issued draft Guidelines for the Establishment of National Standards System of Telematics Industry (Intelligent & Connected Vehicles) (“Draft Guidelines”) for public comment.  The Draft Guidelines aim to establish national standards for China’s Intelligent & Connected Vehicles (ICV) so the standards system can play a leading and supportive role in the development of China’s ICV industry. The Draft Guidelines show China government’s ambitions in this regard and that the efforts to boost the development of China ICV are being driven forward by the very highest levels.The Draft Guidelines outline the overall requirements to establish a standards system, the way in which the standards system should be structured, framework and detailed contents for such standards system and implementation.

The key points of the Draft Guidelines are as follows:

Definition of ICV

Under the Draft Guidelines, ICV is defined as new generation of vehicles equipped with advanced in-car sensors, controllers, actuators and other devices and integrated with modern communication and network technology, which are able to achieve the exchange and sharing of intelligent information between vehicles and X other factors such as people, vehicles, roads and cloud, have the function of  environmental awareness, intelligent decision-making and collaborative control,  able to achieve “safe, efficient, comfortable, energy-saving” driving and, ultimately, enable driving to take place without human beings.

ICV is a concept broader than automated vehicles. It not only covers the meaning of intelligent technology but also the internet-connection technology (i.e. V2X). This ICV definition is closer to the concept of “automated and connected vehicles” adopted by Germany in its Strategy for Automated and Connected Driving (“Automated and Connected Driving Strategy”) issued by German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure in 2015.

The MIIT and SAC reveal in the background introduction of the preparation of the Draft Guidelines that they believe intellectualization and interconnectivity represent two paths for the development of ICV but that integration of the two paths would be the final destination. This principle is the basis which determines how the standards system under the Draft Guidelines will be structured.

Two-phase Goal

The Draft Guidelines states that China aims to build the ICV standards system in two phases:

  • 2020 Supported Driving – by 2020, the standards system of ICV will be established that support driver assistance and low-level automated driving. The intention will be to have more than 30 key standards developed by such time which will cover technological requirements and evaluation methods for general technologies such as functional safety, information security, human machine interface and core function related technologies such as information perception and interaction, forewarning decision and assisting control and facilitate the general popularization of intelligent products and the gradual application and adoption of network technology.
  • 2025 High Level Automated Driving – by 2025 the authorities intend to establish standards system for ICV that support high-level automated driving. This will entail more than 100 standards need to be developed by such time. Such standards will cover the technological requirements and evaluation methods of intelligent automatic control, network collaborative decision-making technology and the function and performance of automated driving under typical scenes, and promote the integrated development of ICV in a way of “Intellectualization + Interconnectivity” as well as the overall popularization of ICV technology and products.

It is clearly intended by the drafters of the regulation is for the two-phase targets to accord with the goals set out in “Made in China 2025”[1]. Made in China 2025 provides an outline by which China aims to master general technologies and various key technologies for automated driving, establish a complete autonomous R&D system, build a supportive production system and encourage industrial clusters of intelligent and connected cars so that an upgraded China automobile industry can be ready by 2025.

The Method to Structure the Standards System

Under the Draft Guidelines, the standards system of ICV will be based on technological logical structure and also a product’s physical structure.

The two main lines of the technology logic of ICV are “information” and “control”. The core of the development of ICV is to shift tasks related to information perception, decision-making and intelligent control from human beings to intelligent systems (as shown in the chart below).

China: Put Self-driving Cars into Gear

The term “information” is divided into “driving-related information” and “driving-unrelated information” which is based on the influence of information on driving behavior and interrelation.“Driving-related information” includes sensor detection and decision making and warning and “driving-unrelated information” mainly includes in-car entertainment services and in-car Internet information services.“Control” is divided into “assisting control” and “automatic control” based on the role and responsibilities of vehicles and drivers in vehicle control and, two types of control correspond to different levels of intelligent control. “Assisting control” mainly refers to the vehicle using various types of electronic technology to assist a driver to carry out vehicle control, such as lateral (direction) control and longitudinal (speed) control and their combination. “Automatic control” is further divided into different levels of automated driving based on scenarios and conditions in which vehicles are able to control themselves and replace humans as drivers.Definition for Levels of AutomationThe Draft Guidelines provide for a first time China’s definition of levels of automation. The Draft Guidelines reveal the definition is based on the widely accepted definition of levels of automation outlined by SAE International (SAE) and takes into account the complexity of road conditions in China.

The Draft Guidelines divide ICV into 5 levels of driving automation, namely, Driving Assistance (DA), Partial Automation (PA), Conditional Automation (CA), High Automation (HA) and Full Automation (FA). The Draft Guidelines also provide a detailed description of the levels as follows:

China: Put Self-driving Cars into Gear

The definition of levels of automation under the Draft Guidelines is very close to the definition provided by SAE but with a slight difference on the narrative of each level and detailed operating conditions. This definition will help market players, especially international market players, to easily follow as SAE definition is widely accepted globally. For example, in the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy issued by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in September 2016, the NHTSA adopts the SAE definitions for levels of automation. Germany also adopts a similar 5 levels of automation as indicated in its Automated and Connected Driving Strategy (but Germany seems to escape the level of CA and differentiating FA and autonomous driving (driverless vehicles)).The Standards System to Be EstablishedUnder the Draft Guidelines, the framework of the standards system of the ICV consists of four major parts: “Foundation”, “General Specification”, “Product and Technology Application” and “Relevant Standards”. A further classification of the said four parts is set out below:

China: Put Self-driving Cars into Gear

Most of the standards to be established under the Draft Guidelines are recommended (not mandatory) national standards with few exceptions. There are 95 standards to be established under the Draft Guidelines – 11 for Foundation, 28 for General Specification, 47 for Product and Technology Application and 9 for Relevant Standards. The Draft Guidelines also reveal that there are 21 standards that are planned to be worked out in next 2-3 years, which includes Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS), automatic emergency brakes (AEB), definition of levels of driving automation and in-car T-BOX, and some of them have been in the process of project approval.What is Next?The MIIT and SAC have set one month for public comment on the Draft Guidelines which will expire by 12 July 2017. Similar draft guidelines have been prepared by MIIT and SAC and circulated to limited groups for comment in 2016. It is currently anticipated that the Draft Guidelines will be officially issued within the next few months.The Draft Guidelines indicate that a sub technology committee for ICV is under way of formation under the National Technical Committee of Auto Standardization[2] to coordinate the establishment of the standards system of ICV.In addition, just one day before the issuance of the Draft Guidelines, i.e., on 12 June 2017, an Industry Innovation Alliance of China Intelligent & Connected Vehicles (“Alliance”) was formed with the guidance of MIIT to facilitate the strategic development of the ICV industry of China.

Mr. Miao Wei, the current minister of MIIT revealed on the same day when the Alliance was formed that ICV is a high ground whereby China can strategically seize the future of the auto industry and is an important opportunity to upgrade China’s auto industry from merely big to also being strong. The minister also indicated that China is formulating the overall development plan for ICV and is drafting regulations on ICV testing on public roads.

Recently, more developed countries have facilitated their legislation for automated driving. For example, on 12 May 2017, the German parliament (the Bundestag, the lower house and the Bundesrat, the upper chamber) has approved the amendments of German Road Traffic Act (Straßenverkehrsgesetz, StVG) to allow automated driving. Australia and Japan also issued guidelines and regulations for road testing of automated driving in June 2017. In the market, traditional and new car makers and technology companies are accelerating their investment and products development in automated driving.

It is clear that the China government is keen to avoid lagging behind the competition in respect of automated driving. Based on the regulations it appears that China sees the development of ICV as a good opportunity to overtake incumbents in China’s auto industry. It is anticipated that more guidelines and regulations will be in place in China soon to further boost the development of ICV.


[1]It is a PRC national 10-year action plan issued in March 2015 which is designed to transform China from a manufacturing giant into a world manufacturing power.

[2]A quasi-government institute focuses on the drafting of standards for China auto industry.[

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