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Baidu Launches its ‘Apollo Go' Robotaxi Service in China's Capital City of Beijing

Baidu Launches its ‘Apollo Go' Robotaxi Service in China's Capital City of Beijing

Author: Eric Walz   

Three weeks after launching its "Apollo Go" robotaxi service in the Chinese city of Cangzhou, China's tech giant Baidu Inc. announced that the service has officially launched in the capital city of Beijing.

Baidu, which is considered by many to be the "Google of China", is the first company in Beijing to deploy autonomous robotaxis that are picking up passengers.

The Apollo Go service encompasses the largest total area and longest road network of about 435 miles (700 km) for an autonomous driving test area in China. The service area includes  nearly 100 pick-up and drop-off locations covering both residential and business districts in Yizhuang, Haidian, and Shunyi, Baidu said.

In addition to Beijing and Cangzhou, Apollo Go has opened its robotaxi services to the public in the city of Changsha, making Baidu the only company with robotaxi pilot operations in multiple cities across China.

For now, the autonomous robtaxis will have a safety driver behind the wheel to supervise the vehicles, but the plan is to eventually remove them. Apollo Go will launch 40 vehicles. Beijing users can use the Apollo Go service after registering on Baidu Maps or the Apollo website. 

The launch event was held at Baidu's Apollo Park, the world's largest autonomous driving test site. Apollo Park was completed in May. The test area supports the development of autonomous vehicles, as well as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology, which allows vehicles to communicate with each other as well as to urban infrastructure, such as traffic lights. 

"Baidu Apollo will continue pushing for the commercial application of autonomous driving. With our technology and platform advantages, we will contribute more to the development of autonomous driving and smart transportation in Beijing and support the city to become a world-leading AI innovation hub," said Zhenyu Li, Corporate Vice President of Baidu and General Manager of Intelligent Driving Group (IDG).

Baidu's Apollo is an open platform designed to foster innovation and speed up the development and rollout of autonomous driving and related technologies through collaboration between various Apollo partners. 

Baidu's Apollo open autonomous driving platform is widely regarded as the Android of the Automotive Industry. It's a comprehensive, secure, complete autonomous driving ecosystem which supports all major functions of a self-driving car. The platform was announced in April 2017.

Since launching Apollo, more than 100 industry partners have joined Apollo, including Chinese automakers FAW Group, Sokon and electric vehicle startup NIO. The growing list of global Apollo partners include BMW, Ford Motor Co, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda, Daimler, as well as chipmakers Intel and Nvidia.

Baidu said that the city of Beijing is the technology and innovation center of China and a strategic location for AI and autonomous driving development. It's the first city in China to regulate and open autonomous driving road test zones. 

Backed by strong support from the Chinese government, Beijing has comprehensive infrastructure and policies in place to foster high-speed development of autonomous driving technologies and other mobility services.

In 2019, Beijing ranked first in China for the number of autonomous driving test licenses issued. In December 2019, Baidu Apollo claimed 40 of the first autonomous driving test licenses issued by the city. In addition, Beijing has put in place stringent safety requirements for manned autonomous driving tests in China to ensure public safety.

According to the 2018 and 2019 editions of the Beijing Autonomous Vehicles Road Test Report, Baidu topped industry peers with the largest fleet of test vehicles, the highest number of miles driven in autonomous mode, and most diverse test scenarios.

The Apollo Go robotaxi fleet has completed road tests totaling 322,492 miles (519,000 km) in Beijing. As a result of the comprehensive testing, Baidu was granted permission to offer robotaxi rides to the general public. The supervised road tests are key for progressing from the research and development stage to the large-scale commercial deployment of autonomous driving services. 

In the future, Baidu plans to bring its autonomous driving technology to a wider range of users.

Last month, Baidu announced that its new autonomous driving computer is ready for production. Baidu calls it the "Apollo Computing Unit" (APU). 

The ACU will support Baidu's autonomous parking feature called Apollo Valet Parking (AVP) which was jointly developed by Baidu and Chinese electric vehicle maker WM Motor. The automaker will be the first automaker offering the valet parking feature at scale beginning in the second half of 2020.

In addition to developing self-driving technology and autonomous parking under Apollo, Baidu is developing a next-generation intelligent in-car interactive operating system that's integrated with Baidu's "DuerOS" robust conversational AI platform. It allows drivers to interact with most vehicle systems using only their voice.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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