Chinese technology company Baidu has been granted the first permits in China for a fully driverless “robotaxi” service on open roads.
“Apollo Go”, Baidu’s autonomous ride-hailing service, is now authorised to collect fares for taxis with no safety driver in Chongqing and Wuhan, two of China’s largest cities.
Baidu said the permits mark a turning point in the future of mobility in China, and predicted that they would kick off driverless ride-hailing across the country.
“This is a tremendous qualitative change,” said Wei Dong, chief safety operation officer at 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 milestone on the path to the inflection point when the industry can finally roll out fully autonomous driving services at scale."
The permits were granted by the municipal government agencies in Wuhan and Chongqing’s Yongchuan district. Both cities have been installing infrastructure such as the 5G “Vehicle to Everything” system which connects autonomous vehicles (AVs) to the internet.
Baidu is planning to provide services in the designated areas in Wuhan during daylight hours, with five Apollo vehicles operating in each city. The latest version of Apollo was unveiled by Baidu last month.
The areas of service cover 13 square kilometres in the Wuhan Economic and Technological Development Zone, and 30 square kilometres in Yongchuan.
The permits were granted after the cars underwent tests with a safety operator in the driving seat, then the passenger seat, before receiving authorisation to operate with no human driver in the vehicle.
The company says its taxis come with multiple mechanisms to ensure safety, including a remote driving capability, developed with the help of data gathered over 32 million vehicle kilometres. It also has around 1,500 global patent applications relating to autonomous driving, the largest of any company in the sector.