Search engine giant Baidu bags China's first fully driverless robotaxi license
Chinese search engine giant Baidu has obtained permission to operate fully driverless robotaxi services in two Chinese cities, the first of the kind in the country. The permits have been awarded by southwestern municipality of Chongqing and the central city of Wuhan, allowing commercial robotaxis to offer rides to the public without human safety drivers in the car.
With this development, Baidu said they marked a "turning point" in China's policy-making towards autonomous driving. “These permits have deep 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."
Initially, Baidu will deploy a batch of five fee-charging robotaxis 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 span 30 square km in Chongqing's Yongchuan District and 13 sq km in the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone.
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The search engine giant is also in talks with local governments of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, to secure licenses within a year to test fully-driverless and unpaid robotaxis in those cities. This is in line with China's efforts to fast-track autonomous vehicle trials and permits as US regulators are also pushing ahead with milestone-setting autonomous driving policies.
In January, self-driving company Cruise received a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission, allowing it to offer paid and fully driverless rides from 10 pm to 6 am in select streets in San Francisco. On the other hand, Baidu's Apollo Go robotaxi service has operated over one million rides across 10 Chinese cities since its launch in 2020.
So far, the company has not reported any problems with the service and has not given a breakdown for how much it has invested in the project.