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

Chinese internet giant Baidu has received approval to offer a fully driverless, human-free commercial robotaxi service in Chongqing and Wuhan through the company’s autonomous driving service unit, Apollo Go.

Baidu’s victories in Wuhan and Chongqing come months after the company won approval to offer driverless ridesharing services to the public on open streets in Beijing. The difference is that in Beijing, the service is still not a commercial service — Baidu offers free driverless rides in the name of research and development and public acceptance — and Beijing’s approval still requires a human operator in the vehicle’s passenger seat.

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

“This is a tremendous qualitative shift,” said Wei Dong, vice president and chief safety operation officer of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, in a statement. “We believe these approvals are an important milestone towards the tipping point where the industry can finally roll out fully autonomous driving services at scale.”

In Wuhan, Baidu’s service will run from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and will cover a 13-square-kilometer area in the city’s Economic and Technological Development Zone, known as China’s “Auto City.” The service from Chongqing will be offered from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in a 30-square-kilometer area in Yongchuan District. According to Baidu, each city will have a fleet of five Gen 5 Apollo robotic taxis.

The zones where Baidu will operate are not densely populated and have many new, wide streets that facilitate the operation of autonomous systems. Both cities offer favorable regulatory and technological frameworks for Baidu to launch its first commercial driverless service. In Chongqing, Yongchuan District has been an autonomous driving pilot zone, where 30 robot taxis have accumulated 1 million test kilometers.

The Wuhan zone where Apollo Go will operate has redesigned 321 kilometers of roads for testing AVs since 2021, including 106 kilometers covered by 5G-powered Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) infrastructure. AVs can rely on V2X technology to gather real-time information about their surroundings and share these perceptions with other vehicles or infrastructure, giving robo-taxis another form of sensors to act on, alongside on-board lidar, radar and cameras can fall back on. The V2X infrastructure also helps Baidu monitor vehicles remotely and control the vehicles when necessary.

Last month, Baidu unveiled the designs for its sixth-generation electric robotaxi, the Apollo RT6 EV, which is a cross between an SUV and a minivan equipped with a detachable steering wheel. The company said it was able to reduce production costs by developing the battery-electric architecture in-house, bringing the cost per vehicle to $37,000 per unit. This will help Baidu test and deploy the RT6 on a small scale by next year and branch on a large scale in 2024.

Aside from its new service in Wuhan and Chongqing and its driverless service in Beijing, Apollo Go is also present in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Changsha, Cangzhou, Yangquan and Wuzhen. Baidu plans to expand its ride-hailing service to 65 cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030. By the end of this year, Baidu plans to add another 300 Apollo fifth-generation robotic taxis to its existing fleet, the company said. Baidu to operate fully driverless commercial robotaxi in Wuhan and Chongqing – TechCrunch

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