After years of research and development, Chinese internet giant, Baidu, has launched its self-driving robotaxi services to the public.
The citizens of Wuhan and Chongqing will be the prospective customers for the autonomous ride-sharing business, according to a press release issued in early August 2022.
The Beijing-based tech firm launched its Apollo autonomous driving platform in 2017. Since then, Baidu robotaxis have racked up 32 million kilometres in tests and research and development to reach the position it is in now.
Apollo has been described as the self-driving industry’s Android, according to the technology publication, Interesting Engineering.
The firm released its comprehensive stockpile of data to other self-driving startups, providing a platform for other industry players to further research and define the technology.
Marketed as ‘Apollo Go’, Baidu’s robotaxis will debut in the central Chinese metropolises of Chongqing and Wuhan, according to the press release.
Apollo Go already has a presence in several other Chinese hubs, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Changsha and Yangquan, and is expected to debut in Beijing this year.
In August, TechCrunch reported that Baidu had secured a permit to operate on the capital’s open roads. However, the permit stipulates that a human operator is in the front seat.
The $47 billion startup expects to expand its reach to 65 cities by 2025 and 100 by the end of the decade.
A fleet of five robotaxis will operate in Chongqing and Wuhan respectively and will be available during working hours.
The areas were selected by Baidu because of their low population density in relation to the rest of the city. Both Chongqing and Wuhan have wider and more modern roads, which can accommodate autonomous cars more readily.
Wuhan’s Economic and Technological Development Zone has renovated more than 300 kilometres of asphalt since Baidu started testing self-driving cars there in 2021. Chongqing has also been a hotbed for robotaxi research and development.
The Yongchuan district hosted a fleet of 30 test vehicles that ran up a combined million kilometres of test data during Baidu’s development cycle.
When Baidu rolls out its fleet, it will become the first Chinese firm to offer a fully autonomous ride-hailing service, beating out stiff competition from domestic rivals, Pony.ai and WeRide.
Alphabet subsidiary, Waymo offers robotaxi services in selected areas of Arizona, while fellow US-based tech firm, Cruise, operates similarly in the San Francisco area.