Chinese internet giant Baidu announced on August 8 that the company has secured the country’s first permits to offer commercial fully driverless robotaxi services to the public on open roads.
Apollo Go, Baidu‘s autonomous ride-hailing service, is now authorized to collect fares for robotaxi rides – without any human drivers or observers in the car – in Chongqing and Wuhan, two large Chinese megacities.
Amid increasing regulatory approval for the expansion of autonomous vehicles, the new permits reflect regulatory authorities’ recognition and trust in the strength of Baidu‘s autonomous driving technology. They also mark a key turning point for the future of mobility in China, leading to an eventual expansion of driverless ride-hailing services to paying users across the country.
The permits were granted to Baidu by government agencies in Wuhan and Chongqing’s Yongchuan District. Both cities have been pioneering new approaches to intelligent transportation in recent years, from developing infrastructure to updating new regulations for autonomous vehicles. Having received the permits, Baidu will begin to provide fully driverless robotaxi services in the designated areas in Wuhan from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, and in Chongqing from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, with five Apollo 5th-gen robotaxis operating in each city. The areas of service cover 13 square kilometers in the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone, and 30 square kilometers in Chongqing’s Yongchuan District.
To receive the permits, Baidu‘s robotaxis have undergone multiple steps of testing and licensing, starting from testing with a safety operator in the driving seat, to testing with a safety operator in the passenger seat, before finally receiving authorization to operate with no human driver or operator in the vehicle.
As the only company to be granted such permits for the two Chinese megacities, Baidu‘s robotaxis come with multi-layered mechanisms to ensure ultimate safety, including the autonomous driving system, monitoring redundancy, remote driving capability and a robust safety operation system, all of which are backed by real-world data including a total test mileage of over 32 million kilometers, driven by Baidu‘s autonomous vehicles to date.
By the end of March this year, Baidu ranked top in the accumulative number of autonomous driving patent applications in China, totaling 4,000. Among them, the firm’s number of global patent families for high-level autonomous driving has exceeded 1,500, ranking first worldwide.