Baidu to operate fully driverless commercial robot taxi in Wuhan and Chongqing – TechCrunch

Chinese internet giant Baidu has secured permits to offer a fully driverless commercial robotaxi service, with no human driver present, in Chongqing and Wuhan via the company’s autonomous ride-hailing unit, Apollo Go.

Baidu’s wins in Wuhan and Chongqing come a few months after the company was granted permission to offer driverless driving services to the public on open roads in Beijing. The difference here is that the service in Beijing is still not a commercial service – Baidu offers free driverless rides in the name of R&D and public acceptance – and Beijing’s permit still requires a human operator in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.

When Baidu launches in Wuhan and Chongqing, it will be the first time an autonomous vehicle company is able to offer a fully driverless driving service in China, Baidu claimed. Meanwhile in the US, Cruise recently began offering a driverless commercial service in San Francisco, and Waymo has offered one in Arizona since 2020.

“This is a huge qualitative change,” Wei Dong, vice president and safety officer of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, said in a statement. “We believe these permits are an important milestone on the road to the tipping point when the industry can finally roll out fully autonomous driving services at scale.”

In Wuhan, Baidu’s service will operate from 9am to 5pm and cover a 13 square kilometer area in the city’s economic and technological development zone, which is known as China’s ‘Auto City’. Chongqing’s service will run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in a 30-square-kilometer area in Yongchuan District. Each city will have a fleet of five Apollo 5th generation robot axes, according to Baidu.

The zones where Baidu will operate are not densely populated, and they have many new, wide roads that make it easier to operate autonomous systems. Both cities provide favorable regulatory and technological environments for Baidu to launch its first commercial driverless service. In Chongqing, the Yongchuan district has been a pilot zone for autonomous driving, where 30 robot axes have accumulated 1 million kilometers of test driving.

The zone in Wuhan where Apollo Go will operate has renewed 321 kilometers of roads for testing AVs since 2021, which includes 106 kilometers worth covered by 5G-powered vehicle-to-everything (V2X) infrastructure. AVs can rely on V2X technology to gather real-time information about its surroundings and share those perceptions with other vehicles or infrastructure, essentially giving the robot axis another form of sensor to fall back on, aside from lidar, radar and on-board cameras. V2X infrastructure also helps Baidu monitor vehicles remotely and control the vehicles if necessary.

Last month, Baidu revealed the designs for its sixth-generation electric robot taxi, the Apollo RT6 EV, which is a cross between an SUV and a minivan that comes with a removable steering wheel. The company said it was able to cut production costs by developing the electric battery architecture in-house, bringing the cost per vehicle to $37,000 per unit. This will help Baidu get to the point of small-scale testing and deployment of RT6 by next year, branching out to large-scale in 2024.

Apart from the new service in Wuhan and Chongqing and the driverless service in Beijing, Apollo Go also has a presence in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Changsha, Cangzhou, Yangquan and Wuzhen. Baidu said it plans to expand its ride-hailing service to 65 cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030. By the end of this year, Baidu expects to add another 300 Apollo 5th generation robot axes to its existing fleet, the company said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.