China's first fully driverless robotaxis service begins in Wuhan

60
2
China's first fully driverless robotaxis service begins in Wuhan

This photo shows Beijing residents using the robotaxi service provided by the technology giant Baidu Inc. JIAO HONGTAO BEIJING -- China search engine giant Baidu Inc., the first of its kind in the country.

Commercial robotaxis can offer rides to the public without human safety drivers in the vehicle, as a result of permits granted by the southwestern municipality of Chongqing and the central city of Wuhan. Baidu said they marked a turning point in China's policy-making towards autonomous driving.

These permits have profound significance for the industry, Wei Dong, chief safety operation officer of Baidu's Intelligent Driving Group, told Reuters in an interview. If we think of the exploration of space, this moment is equal to landing on the moon. The company said that at first, a batch of five fee-charging robotaxis will be deployed in each city, where they will be allowed to operate in designated areas from 9 am to 5 pm in Wuhan and 9: 30 am to 4: 30 pm in Chongqing.

The service areas include 30 square km in Chongqing's Yongchuan district and 13 square km in the Wuhan Economic Technological Development Zone.

READ MORE: Baidu rolls out Apollo RT 6 vrooming for ride-hailing.

In April, Baidu's Apollo and Toyota Motor Corp-backed Pony.ai said they received permits in Beijing to deploy robotaxis without safety drivers in the driver's seat on open roads within a 60 square km area. The permits from Beijing still require them to have a safety driver in the passenger seat. These services have started.

Baidu is also in talks with local governments in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen to get licenses within a year to test fully-driverless and unpaid robotaxis in those cities, according to Wei.

China's efforts to speed-track autonomous vehicle trials and permits come as the US regulators are pushing ahead with milestone-setting driving policies.

In January, Cruise received a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission that allows it to offer paid and fully driverless rides from 10 pm to 6 am in select streets in San Francisco.

Since its launch in 2020, Apollo Go, Baidu's robotaxi service, has operated more than one million rides across 10 Chinese cities.

Baidu has not reported any problems with the service and has not given a breakdown of how much it has invested in the project.