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

Chinese internet giant Baidu has secured permissions to offer a fully driverless commercial robotaxi service, with no human driver present, in Chongqing and Wuhan via the company’s self-driving transport unit, Apollo Go.

Baidu’s victories in Wuhan and Chongqing come months after the company won a permit to provide driverless transport services to the public on Beijing’s open roads. The difference here is that the service in Beijing is still not a commercial service – Baidu offers free driverless rides in the name of R&D and public acceptance – and the Beijing permit still requires a human operator on the front passenger seat of the vehicle.

When Baidu launches in Wuhan and Chongqing, it will be the first time that an autonomous vehicle company will be able to offer a fully driverless transportation service in China, Baidu said. Meanwhile in the US, Cruise recently started offering driverless commercial service in San Francisco, and Waymo has been offering one in Arizona since 2020.

“This is a huge qualitative change,” Wei Dong, vice president and director of safety operations at Baidu’s Smart Driving Group, said in a statement. “We believe these permits are a key step on the road to the inflection point where the industry can finally deploy fully autonomous driving services at scale.”

In Wuhan, Baidu’s service will operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and cover an area of ​​13 square kilometers in the city’s economic and technological development zone, known as “Auto City” in China. The Chongqing service will operate from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in an area of ​​30 square kilometers in Yongchuan District. Each city will have a fleet of five 5th-generation Apollo robotaxis, according to Baidu.

The areas where Baidu will operate are not densely populated, and they feature many new wide roads that make it easier to operate autonomous systems. Both cities provide favorable regulatory and technological environments for Baidu to launch its first commercial driverless service. In Chongqing, Yongchuan District has been a pilot area for autonomous driving, in which 30 robotaxis have accumulated 1 million kilometers of test drives.

The Wuhan area where Apollo Go will operate has redeveloped 321 kilometers of roads to test AV vehicles since 2021, including 106 kilometers covered by 5G-powered vehicle-to-everything (V2X) infrastructure. AVs can leverage V2X technology to collect real-time information about their surroundings and share those perceptions with other vehicles or infrastructure, essentially giving robotaxis another form of sensor to fall back on, in addition to lidar. , radar and on-board cameras. The V2X infrastructure also helps Baidu monitor vehicles remotely and steer vehicles when needed.

Last month, Baidu unveiled designs for its sixth-generation electric robotaxi, the Apollo RT6 EV, which is a cross between an SUV and a minivan that features a removable steering wheel. The company said it was able to reduce production costs by developing the battery electrical architecture in-house, bringing the cost per vehicle to $37,000 per unit. This will help Baidu reach a point of small-scale testing and deployment of RT6 by next year, branching out to large-scale in 2024.

Besides its new service in Wuhan and Chongqing and its driverless service in Beijing, Apollo Go also has a presence in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Changsha, Cangzhou, Yangquan and Wuzhen. Baidu said it plans to expand its transportation service to 65 cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030. By the end of this year, Baidu plans to add another 300 Apollo robotaxis from 5th generation to its existing fleet, the company said.


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