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China's Baidu Inc. Opens its ‘Apollo Go' Robotaxi Service in Shanghai

China's Baidu Inc. Opens its ‘Apollo Go' Robotaxi Service in Shanghai

Author: Eric Walz   

Chinese tech giant Baidu Inc. has opened its Apollo Go robotaxi service for public testing in Shanghai, its third major city in China following the launch last year in Beijing and Guangzhou. Riders can now try out the autonomous ride-hailing service and get picked up in one of Baidu's driverless Apollo Go vehicles using the Apollo Go smartphone app.

With the launch of Apollo Go in Shanghai, Baidu says it's the only company to offer an autonomous ride-hailing service in three first-tier cities, having already launched in Beijing and Guangzhou.

The autonomous driving industry in China has entered a new stage of development by trialing large-scale commercial deployment. Wei Dong, vice president and chief safety operation officer of Baidu's Intelligent Driving Group, said that achieving this large-scale implementation requires three important steps; regionalization, commercialization and verification by putting unmanned vehicles into commercial service. 

The Shanghai operation will eventually include 150 Apollo Go pickup and dropoff stations that will open in phases throughout the city. The stations are strategically located to provide users with convenient access to the Apollo Go service in residential and commercial areas, as well as near office buildings and public transit stops. 

Passengers can utilize the service from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. seven days a week.

With the launch in Shanghai, Baidu Apollo is continuing to deliver on China's vision of developing a world-leading autonomous driving market

This announcement comes after the expansion of Apollo Go service to Tongzhou District in Beijing, which is considered the eastern gateway into the capital city. The first autonomous routes in Tongzhou will cover a total of 22 stations and a distance of 31 miles. Baidu says it completes more than 100 fully autonomous trips every day.

According to a recent IHS Markit report, the market potential for autonomous vehicles in the future, including robotaxis, are estimated to account for more than 60 percent of China's future mobility sharing market by 2030, exceeding $201 billion. 

IHS also estimates that this portion of the market will be dominated by two or three major players  with the leading provider taking roughly a 40% market share.

With strong government support, the rollout of commercial autonomous vehicles in China is happening much quicker than in the U.S., where the lack of a regulatory framework is hindering the deployment of self-driving vehicles on public roads. As a result, China is emerging as a global leader in autonomous driving technology, with Baidu at the top of the list.

Baidu is often referred to as the "Google of China". The company has been working on self-driving technology since launching its Apollo open autonomous driving platform in 2017. The open platform is designed to speed up the development of autonomous driving technology through collaboration with industry partners.

Baidu's open Apollo autonomous driving platform is now widely regarded as the "Android of the Automotive Industry." Since its launch in 2017, Apollo has grown to become the largest open-source autonomous driving platform in the world, according to Baidu. Among the global automakers contributing to the Apollo platform are BMW, Ford Motor Co, Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda, Intel Corp, and roughly 200 other companies.

In April, global consulting firm Guidehouse named Baidu as one of the "top ten autonomous driving developers in the world." Others include Waymo, which spun out of Google's self-driving car project, and San Francisco-based Cruise, the autonomous driving unit of automaker General Motors.

In June, Baidu revealed an electric robotaxi vehicle called "Apollo Moon" that will eventually be used in its expanding Apollo Go service. Baidu says the Apollo Moon EV is a "monumental milestone in the large-scale commercialization of fully autonomous ride-hailing services in China." 

The company plans to deploy 1,000 Apollo Moon robotaxis over the next three years in China. 

Baidu said it already made headway in scaling its autonomous ride-hailing service. The company said it achieved a 60% reduction in cost per mile with its 5th generation Apollo Moon robotaxi vehicle.

In August, Baidu announced the launch of the Apolong II minibus, its next-generation multi-purpose autonomous passenger vehicle that's being deployed in Guangzhou. The fully-autonomous Apolong II shuttle will also be used as part of the Apollo ride-hailing service. It's also powered by the same Apollo autonomous driving platform. The Apolong II has no steering wheel or pedals and is designed to operate entirely without human intervention.

Following the launch in Shanghai, Baidu plans to bring its Apollo Go mobility services to 25 more cities in the next three years, making autonomous driving technology accessible to 3 million people in China.

Baidu's autonomous Apollo Go vehicles are backed up with a 5G-powered "Remote Driving Service". It allows a human operator to take over control of the vehicle remotely in the event the software encounters any unexpected obstacles during the trip, such as a stalled vehicle or lane closure due to construction.

The remote operator can control the steering, braking and acceleration and is provided real-time camera feeds from the vehicle as if they were seated behind the wheel.

The Remote Driving Service also provides additional peace of mind for passengers that may be hesitant about riding in a completely driverless vehicle. Just knowing that a human can take control if needed can help reduce any anxiety for passengers.

As of the end of August, Baidu's fleet of L4 autonomous test vehicles traveled a total of 8.7 million miles on roads in China.

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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