Chinese AI company Baidu Inc has been granted the first permits in China to offer fully driverless robotaxi services to paying customers on open roads.
Apollo Go, Baidu’s autonomous ride-hailing service, is now authorized to collect fares for robotaxi rides, without human drivers in the car, in Chongqing and Wuhan.
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 AVs.
Baidu will now begin to provide fully driverless robotaxi services in designated areas in Wuhan from 9am to 5pm, and Chongqing from 9:30am to 4:30pm, with five Apollo 5th gen robotaxis operating in each city. The areas of service cover 13 sq kms in the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone, and 30 sq kms in Chongqing’s Yongchuan District.
“This is a tremendous qualitative change,” says Wei Dong, vice president and chief safety operation officer of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group. “Fully driverless cars providing rides on open roads to paying customers means we have finally come to the moment that the industry has been longing for. We believe these permits are a key milestone on the path to the inflection point when the industry can finally roll out fully autonomous driving services at scale.”
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.
Baidu’s robotaxis come with multi-layer mechanisms to ensure safety, including the autonomous driving system, monitoring redundancy, remote driving capability and a robust safety operation system, with a total test mileage of over 32 million kms (~20 million miles) driven by Baidu AVs to date.