Baidu’s fully driverless taxis get green light in two Chinese cities

8 Aug 2022

Image: Baidu

The company said securing permits in Chongqing and Wuhan marks the first time fully driverless taxis will be in commercial service in China.

Tech giant Baidu has received permits to launch its fully driverless taxis in two key Chinese cities.

Chongqing and Wuhan will be the first two cities in China to offer the Apollo Go driverless taxi service without any human driver present in the car.

Baidu’s wins come months after it secured a permit to run its driverless taxi service in Beijing. However, while the taxis in Beijing are still in the R&D phase and require a human driver present in the front seat, the company will provide a fully driverless commercial service in Chongqing and Wuhan.

Baidu said this marks the first time fully driverless taxis will be in commercial service in China. It beats out Toyota-backed rival, which along with Baidu was one of two companies to receive China’s first driverless taxi permits in Beijing back in April.

“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,” said Wei Dong, chief safety officer of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group.

“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.”

He also told Reuters that these new permits have “deep significance” for the industry. “If we think of the exploration of space, this moment is equal to landing on the moon.”

Baidu will initially deploy five taxis in the two cities, running from 9am to 5pm in Wuhan and 9.30am to 4.30pm in Chongqing.

China’s push to get more driverless taxis on the road comes as the space gets increasingly busy in the US.

In June, Cruise, the self-driving car business owned by General Motors, became the first to secure approval to operate a commercial taxi service using driverless cars in California.

Taking to select streets of San Francisco between 10pm and 6am, the service is limited to overnight hours and will avoid the city’s busy downtown area.

“Crossing the threshold into commercial operations isn’t just big news for Cruise alone. It is a major milestone for the shared mission of the [autonomous vehicle] industry to improve life in our cities,” Cruise COO Gil West said at the time.

In March, Alphabet-owned Waymo started offering fully driverless car rides to its employees in San Francisco.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic