Baidu, the Chinese internet giant, has obtained permission to launch a completely driverless commercial robotaxi service in Chongqing and Wuhan via its autonomous ride-hailing arm, Apollo Go.
Baidu’s victories in Wuhan and Chongqing come only months after the company was granted permission to launch autonomous ride-hailing services to the public on Beijing’s open roads. The distinction in Beijing is that the service is still not commercial — Baidu is providing free driverless trips in the name of R&D and public acceptability — and Beijing’s permission still needs a human operator in the front passenger seat of the car.
Baidu [NASDAQ: BIDU] claims that when it starts in Wuhan and Chongqing, it will be the first time in China that an autonomous vehicle firm would be able to offer a fully driverless ride-hailing service. Meanwhile, in the United States, Cruise just launched a driverless commercial service in San Francisco, while Waymo has been doing so in Arizona since 2020.
In a statement, Wei Dong, vice president and chief safety operating officer of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, stated, “This is a big qualitative shift.” “We believe these permits are a critical step on the route to the inflection moment when the industry will eventually be able to roll out completely autonomous driving services at scale.”
Baidu’s service will be available in Wuhan from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will span a 13-square-kilometer region of the city’s Economic and Technological Development zone, also known as China’s ‘Auto City.’ The service in Chongqing will operate from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in a 30 square kilometer region in Yongchuan District. According to Baidu, each city will have a fleet of five Apollo 5th generation robotaxis.
The areas where Baidu will operate are not highly inhabited, and they have many new, broad highways that make autonomous systems easier to run. Baidu will launch its first commercial driverless service in both cities due to favorable legislative and technological circumstances. The Yongchuan District in Chongqing has been designated as a trial zone for autonomous driving, with 30 robotaxis travelling 1 million kilometers.
Since 2021, the Wuhan zone where Apollo Go will operate has renovated 321 kilometers of roads for testing AVs, including 106 kilometers covered by 5G-powered vehicle-to-everything (V2X) infrastructure. AVs may use V2X technology to acquire real-time information about their surroundings and communicate it with other vehicles or infrastructure, basically giving the robotaxis another type of sensor to rely on in addition to onboard lidar, radar, and cameras. Baidu can also monitor and operate cars remotely thanks to V2X technology.