Xpeng NGP: One update per day.

Recently, I went to Guangzhou and experienced the NGP (Next Generation Platform) function of XPeng Motors.

In fact, this function is not unfamiliar to everyone. In October 2019, XPeng unveiled the engineering version of NGP for the first time during the 1024 Intelligent Technology Sharing Day. The NGP function we experienced this time is an evolution based on the engineering version at that time.

What’s interesting is that from October 24, 2019, to the day we experienced it, in just over two months, XPeng NGP has undergone 12 major version iterations and more than 90 small version upgrades, achieving a “1-day-1-upgrade” iteration frequency.

What is NGP?

The full name of NGP should be NGP automatic navigation assisted driving function. Compared with XPeng’s current ACC adaptive cruise control, lane centering, steering assistance, and turn signal lane change functions, NGP incorporates high-precision maps and can achieve three core functions on highways and urban expressways covered by high-precision maps:

  1. Automatic selection of optimal lane/automatic overtaking of slow cars;
  2. Automatically merge in and out of ramps according to navigation;

In addition to XPeng, Tesla and NIO also have similar functions, with Tesla’s called NOA and NIO’s NOP. The product logic and functions of the three are the same.

In terms of hardware level for mass-produced cars, XPeng P7 has a higher level of assisted driving hardware: 14 cameras, 5 millimeter-wave radars, and a calculation platform that uses a combination of the NVIDIA Xavier chip and intelligent controller.

From the user’s perspective, a relatively ideal usage scenario and status is that when you drive a XPeng car onto a highway or urban expressway and turn on the NGP function, the vehicle can drive out of the highway or urban expressway along the optimal route without you needing to do anything, and then wait for you to take control.

This means that if you are traveling on a short intercity trip, such as from Beijing to Tianjin, or a longer one, such as from Beijing to Jinan, a XPeng car with NGP function can allow the driver to not need to operate the vehicle for more than 90% of the time, and only need to pay attention to the front.

Of course, it must be noted that this is only a relatively “ideal” scenario.

How is the NGP experience?Because I have experienced NIO’s NOP and Tesla’s NOA, I was quite familiar with the experience of Xpeng’s NGP when I tried it out. I could feel the differences in product experience among several companies, as well as some subtle differences in logic and definition.

First of all, let’s talk about the advantages of NGP. I think there are mainly three points:

Firstly, changing lanes and overtaking is relatively decisive. As the most important function experience in NGP, whether it performs well or not, even directly determines whether NGP is valuable or not. When I experienced NOP for the first time before, a clear feeling was that it was relatively “cautious” during the process of changing lanes and overtaking, and would hesitate if there was a car behind, even if it was far away.

This “caution” is not necessarily bad, after all, it involves safety, so it’s better to be cautious. However, as a user, I feel that there is a big difference between the vehicle and my driving habits, and the vehicle is not as good as I am at driving. So, users often abandon this function, just like they would not give the steering wheel to a novice driver. During my second test drive of NOP, NIO iterated on this experience and improved it a lot.

When I tried Xpeng’s NGP this time, my first impression was that changing lanes and overtaking were “really very determined”. I have a relatively conservative driving habit, and I don’t drive aggressively. Although sometimes I felt that “the vehicle seems to be a little more aggressive than I am driving”, overall, the automatic lane selection, automatic lane changing, and overtaking of NGP were quite consistent with my expectations, just like “human drivers driving”.

Secondly, the performance of driving out of the ramp is stable. This feeling is a bit different from my experience of trying Tesla’s NOA. The feeling of NOA driving out of the ramp is a bit “rushed” and “floating”. Simply put, when entering, it will make the driver a little nervous. However, compared to this, Xpeng’s NGP is more stable and gentle. Of course, this also brings a drawback, which will be mentioned later.

Thirdly, the granularity of interaction is delicate. Xpeng’s NGP also has an obvious advantage, which is interaction. In the navigation interface, in addition to being able to see the road markings and arrows clearly, it can also clearly recognize the cones on the side of the road, and even some uniquely Chinese buffer barrels. This is very interesting, indicating that Xpeng’s human-computer interaction engineers have done a very delicate job in the user experience end.

After discussing the advantages, let’s talk about two small drawbacks:- One is the constant reminder to “turn the steering wheel lightly”. In NGP mode, if the driver does not turn the steering wheel lightly within 15 seconds, they will be reminded, and after multiple reminders, NGP will be exited. The main reason is that the P7’s steering wheel is a “torque sensor”, not a grip or capacitance sensor, and just placing your hand or fingers lightly on the steering wheel is not enough. You must turn it lightly.

  • Second, maintain speed limit on the ramp. At first glance, there seems to be no problem, but from the moment the car enters the ramp until it exits, the P7 will slow down from its original speed of 120 km/h to below 60 km/h in NGP mode, causing problems. For example, there were a few occasions when the car behind honked at me, and I had to accelerate myself.
  • Objectively speaking, these two minor shortcomings are not technical problems, but logical ones.
  • From XPeng’s logical point of view, these two details are related to safety. For example, the steering wheel reminder is mainly to keep the driver focused, and the ramp speed reduction is in accordance with the speed limit, but in terms of actual user experience, they are not entirely consistent with driving habits and human nature.
  • Overall impression of NGP:
    • After this experience, many people asked me, how good is XPeng’s NGP feature?
    • Objectively speaking, it is not 100% perfect. For example, the aforementioned shortcomings did cause me to exit NGP functionality in some scenarios, either actively or passively.
    • But if I were asked, do you like NGP? The answer is very clear: I like it, and I like it very much.
    • XPeng’s NGP function is exciting. When friends get into my car and I turn on NOP, telling them to watch as my car changes lanes automatically, it feels like three years ago when you pulled out the latest generation of the iPhone X and showed everyone how to use Face ID to log in, even if it might not work in one go. You might criticize it, but it doesn’t prevent you from liking it. And you know it will get better and better.
    • I have asked some friends and group members who have listed XPeng P7 on their purchasing list or have already bought it. They all share a very obvious characteristic: young mindset, willingness to accept new things, and sensitivity to new technology. For these users, the “superiority of standing at the forefront of the times” brought by NGP is even more important.
    • Finally, a small detail: during the Spring Festival period, XPeng Automobile will gradually push the NGP function to car owners. However, every car owner needs to pass a small test before using NGP, mainly about the safety precautions for using NGP. A small detail, but very user-oriented and important.

This article is a translation by ChatGPT of a Chinese report from 42HOW. If you have any questions about it, please email bd@42how.com.