Baidu gets licences for driverless robotaxis in China

  • August 15, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson
Baidu’s driverless robotaxi providing service to the public on open roads

Baidu has been granted China’s first-ever permits for commercial fully driverless ride-hailing services.

This makes Baidu the first and only company to offer a fully driverless robotaxi services to the public in China, without human drivers in the car. The permits will allow Baidu to put fully driverless robotaxis on open roads in Chongqing and Wuhan during the daytime.

Apollo Go, Baidu’s autonomous ride-hailing service, is now authorised to collect fares for robotaxi rides, completely without human drivers in the car, in Chongqing and Wuhan, two of China’s largest cities.

Amid increasing regulatory approval of the expansion of autonomous vehicles (AVs), the permits reflect regulatory authorities’ recognition and trust in the strength of Baidu’s autonomous driving technology. They also mark a 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.

“This is a tremendous qualitative change,” said Wei Dong, vice president at Baidu. “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.”

The permits were granted to Baidu by government agencies in Wuhan and Chongqing’s Yongchuan district. Both cities have been pioneering approaches to intelligent transportation in recent years, from developing infrastructure to updating regulations for AVs.

Having received the permits, Baidu will begin to provide fully driverless robotaxi services in the designated areas in Wuhan from 9am to 5pm, and Chongqing from 9:30am to 4:30pm, with five Apollo robotaxis operating in each city. The areas of service cover 13 square kilometres in the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone, and 30 square kilometres 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 authorisation to operate with no human driver or operator in the vehicle.

The robotaxis come with multi-layer mechanisms to ensure safety, including the autonomous driving system, monitoring redundancy, remote driving capability and a safety operation system, all of which are backed by a trove of real-world data including a total test mileage of over 32 million kilometres driven by Baidu’s AVs to date.

By the end of March 2022, Baidu ranked top in the accumulative number of autonomous driving patent applications in China, totalling 4000. Among them, the number of global patent families for high-level autonomous driving exceeded 1500, ranking first worldwide. Having already expanded to all first-tier cities in China, covering Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, Apollo Go has now surfaced to become the world’s largest robotaxi service provider, recently reaching the milestone of more than one million orders.