The new year has brought a new outlook on autonomous vehicles for one of the world’s largest—and most influential—countries.
China will welcome self-driving cars on its roads for the first time starting in 2018. The Asian giant declared the new policy late last year, with a statement from the Beijing Municipal Committee of Transportation.
In it, the government outlines some initial regulations on the technology, which will require a temporary testing permit to operate. Experiments can only be performed on specific, approved roads—and only in specially insured vehicles, with a human behind the wheel.
The decision marks a turnaround for China, which moved to ban autonomous cars from its highways in 2016. At the time, the country cited a lack of legislation on the issue, and officials said testing would resume once the government had time to write the appropriate rules and regulations.
Reportedly, one of the biggest obstacles Chinese authorities faced in crafting the regulations centered around the country’s restrictions on the recording of geographic data. China has required permits for taking geographical surveys for years, and many digital cameras will refrain from geotagging locations in the country due to its rules on the matter.
Similar restrictions are also being placed on foreign carmakers hoping to test their self-driving vehicles on Chinese roads, according to a report by the Financial Times. The new rules place limits on the resolution of cameras and GPS systems used by non-domestic companies, with the hope of thwarting spying opportunities, the report states. Instead, foreign manufacturers will need to work with one of 13 Chinese firms permitted to photograph the roads.
Still, many are likely to jump at the chance. China is not only the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy; it’s also the planet’s largest exporter of cars, with new vehicle sales in the nation topping 28 million in 2016—representing one-third of the cars sold worldwide that year.
And while no official start date has been set for the experiments to begin, the announcement will surely kick the 2018 self-driving race into high gear.