Baidu has secured permits to operate China’s first-ever fully driverless licensed robotaxis. The company which is the operator of the most widely used search engine in China said it will be able to operate its Apollo Go cars without a safety supervisor on board in the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Chongqing. Winning the permit has given Baidu an edge over its rivals, including Pony.ai, WeRide and AutoX, which are all also racing to develop fully autonomous driving systems.
The services will be offered using a fleet of five 5th generation Apollo taxis in each city. Apart from the radar, Lidar, and other cameras onboard, the vehicles are also equipped with V2X (vehicle to everything) technology. This V2X technology uses 5G communication to allow the car to access information from its environment as well as other vehicles and infrastructure or even be remotely piloted, if necessary.
As is normally the case with these autonomous driving programs, there are several limitations on when and where they can be deployed. In Wuhan, the services will be available from 9 am to 5 pm in the five square miles (13 km2) area of the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone. In Chongqing, the services will be available from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm in the 11.5 sq. mile (30 km2) area of Yongchuan District.
Beijing has also granted Baidu the permit to run its driverless robotaxi services. However, Baidu could only offer free rides to people as part of its R&D efforts and gauge public response to its technology. More importantly, the Beijing permission comes with a rider, a human operator is seated in the front seat of the vehicle. Beijing regulators in July allowed Baidu and Pony.AI to collect fees for driverless rides within a 60 km2 suburban zone of the capital city with the restriction above in place.