China’s leading search engine and artificial intelligence company Baidu have been given the green light to provide driverless ride-hailing services to the public on open roads in Beijing.
The permit allows Baidu to operate ten autonomous vehicles as traditional taxis in a designated area of 60 square kilometers in Beijing, making it the first company to be granted licenses by Chinese authorities to run a fully driverless service.
The ten driverless vehicles joined Baidu’s Apollo Go fleet of roughly 100 cars in the capital city starting Thursday (April 28 2022).
The license marks a significant progress for the autonomous ride-hailing industry in China from testing autonomous vehicles to allowing public passengers to ride driverless robotaxis. It is also a big step toward cars independent of human intervention.
Previously, companies must place a safety operator in the driver’s seat in case of an emergency. Baidu can now dispatch autonomous car with safety operator only in the passenger seat.
In addition, Baidu runs a pilot zone autonomous vehicles in Yizhuang new town covering 60 square kilometres, featuring integrated smart roads, real-time cloud data transmission.
Beijing’s Yizhuang new town is home to the facilities of several tech companies, including, e-commerce company JD.com, Baidu, China’s top chip foundry Semiconductor International Manufacturing Corporation
Autonomous driving companies in China have attracted billions in investments, but most firms haven’t yet to achieve profitability.
In November 2021, Baidu obtained licenses from Cangzhou government in Hebei province that could allow 35 of Apollo Go’s robotaxis to charge a fee for service in the city, making a big step toward commercialization of the technology.
According to Baidu, Apollo Go has expanded to nine cities in China since its launch in 2020, including first tier cities- Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou and five other cities-Chongqing, Changsha, Cangzhou, Yangquan and Wuzhen.
Apollo, an open platform of Baidu’s autonomous driving technology, first announced in 2013, it is a key growth driver of Baidu.
Since launching Apollo, more than 100 industry partners have joined Apollo, including Chinese automakers FAW Group, Sokon and electric vehicle startup Nio, as well as international car companies including include BMW, Ford Motor Co, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda, Daimler, as well as chipmakers Intel and Nvidia.