Baidu Says Bye-Bye to Taxi Drivers, Gets New Licenses for Autonomous Transport

Baidu Apollo Go 6 photos
Photo: Forbes
In a first for China, Baidu’s Apollo Go and received permission from Beijing city to remove the safety driverApollo Go in BeijingBaidu launched its rail-hailing service in Beijing in May 2021Baidu's fleets of robotaxis in BeijingApollo Robotaxi
Baidu's plan to develop and expand intelligent transportation in China reached a new milestone: it received permits to operate fully driverless robotaxis on public roads in Chongqing and Wuhan.
After multiple tests carried out in a closed circuit, Baidu's transport service, Apollo Go, is ready to fulfill the mission for which it was created. The ultimate goal is to have completely driverless robotaxis on public roads in all of China, paid through an app.

The permits issued by the municipalities of the two cities, Chongqing and Wuhan, certify that commercial robotaxis can perform public rides without a driver or other assistance. This type of autonomous transport has already been happening in Beijing since April, with the difference that the service here is not yet commercial, and the license still requires a human assistant in the front seat.

According to Reuters, five fee-charging robotaxis for each city are programmed to operate in particular areas. For example, the dedicated space in Wuhan covers 13 square km (5 square miles) in the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone. The robotaxis will be available in this area during the day between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while in Chongqing, the deployment area will be 30 square km (11.58 square miles) in Yongchuan District, and will operate between 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

This new type of autonomous transport still needs time and infrastructure. That's why Baidu started its commercial operation in these sparsely populated areas, that offer unique and wide roads so that robotaxis can be accessed and controlled more easily. In fact, Yongchuan District in Chongqing was initially a pilot zone, where 30 robotaxis ran their 1 million kilometers (621,000 miles), providing essential information for constant improvement.

As in an endless competition, China accelerates tests and licenses for autonomous transport as the U.S. seems to do the same. For instance, in January, the Cruise company received the written green light from the California Public Utilities Commission to conduct fully driverless rides, but only during the evening between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in a dedicated area in San Francisco.

Baidu's short-term plan is to expand its ride-hailing service to 65 cities by 2025, while the long-term plan calls for 100 cities by 2030.

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