China’s leading search engine and artificial intelligence company Baidu has been given the green light to provide the unmanned taxi services, marks a significant progress for the autonomous driving technology in China from testing autonomous vehicles to allowing public passengers to ride robotaxi.
The permit allows Baidu’s autonomous ride-hailing service to offer robotaxi rides to operate on open roads from 9:30am to 4:30 pm in Chongqing and 9am to 5pm in Wuhan.
Previously, Baidu has obtained licenses to operate robotaxis in cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, but it was required to place a safety operator in the passenger seat in case of an emergency. Baidu can now dispatch autonomous rides without human drivers present in the vehicle, showing Chinese regulators’ confidence in Baidu’s driverless technology.
The area where Baidu offer the unmanned taxi services are limited, covering 30 square kilometres in Chongqing’s Yongchuan District and 13 square kilometres in the Wuhan Economic and Technological Development Zone.
In order to accelerate commercialization of robotaxi, Baidu aims to deploy a fleet of 100,000 new autonomous taxi from next year, then expand its robotaxi service to 65 cities by 2035 and 100 cities by 2030.
Last month, the company unveiled its next-generation autonomous taxi with a detachable steering wheel at the annual artificial intelligence conference held in Beijing.
According to Baidu, the next generation autonomous taxi so called RT6 robocar has a much lower unit cost compared with the previous generation.
Aside from the robotaxi business, it is also ramping up development and production of smart EVs for household use to tap an burgeoning market of electrification in China.
Jidu, an EV venture 55 percent controlled by Baidu and 45 percent controlled by Chinese automaker Geely, aims to deliver 800,000 of its "robot" cars in 2028, Jidu chief executive Joe Xia Yiping said in a statement on Monday.
Mass production of JIDU’s first EV will then ramp up in 2023, Xia said, adding that its second model for mass production in 2024.
Jidu revealed its first "robot" concept car called ROBO-01 in June, which has no door handles and can be fully controlled via voice recognition. It will be capable of achieving level 4 autonomous driving technology that need no human intervention.
Xia highlighted that the final version of the ROBO-01 will be 90% similar to the concept car in 2023. Jidu's first model will be priced above 200,000 yuan ($29,914.59), Baidu chief executive Robin Li said on a conference call in May.
In order to diversify business and discover more revenue stream, Baidu launched its open-source autonomous driving platform Apollo in 2017 to shift its center of focus from search engine, advertising to autonomous driving and artificial intelligence.