China's Baidu is Now the World's Largest Robotaxi Operator After Completing 115,000 Fully-Autonomous Rides in Q3
China's tech giant Baidu Inc., which is often referred to as the "Google of China", is investing heavily in autonomous driving and related technology, such as HD mapping and autonomous ride hailing services.
Baidu's commercial autonomous ride-hailing service is named "Apollo Go". It was officially launched last year in China. The service continues to expand to new cities and now has become the world's largest robotaxi service, according to Baidu.
Apollo Go provided 115,000 rides in the third quarter, making it the largest robotaxi service provider in the world, Baidu CEO Robin Li, said in an earnings call after the company reported its quarterly financial results this week.
Baidu was the first company in China to pick up passengers in autonomous vehicles when it opened its "Apollo Go" transportation service to the public in May 2020. Riders can summon one of the company's Apollo Go robotaxis using Baidu Maps or the Apollo Go smartphone app.
The autonomous ride-hailing service now operates in Beijing, Guangzhou, Changsha, Cangzhou, and Shanghai. Baidu aims to expand its Apollo Go service to 65 cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030, Mr. Li said.
The Apollo fleet of self-driving vehicles has accumulated over 10 million test miles, up 189% year over year. Baidu also said it received 411 autonomous driving permits in China to scale the service.
Apollo Go is named after Baidu's open and collaborative Apollo autonomous driving platform launched in 2017. The open platform is designed to speed up the development of autonomous driving technology through collaboration with industry partners.
As of Sept 2021, the Apollo platform has over 210 partners, 65,000 global developers, and 700,000 lines of open-source code for developers to use.
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.
Since the Apollo Go vehicles do not have safety drivers on board, they 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 Driving Service also provides additional peace of mind for passengers that may be hesitant about riding in a completely driverless vehicle. But just knowing that a human can take control if needed can help reduce anxiety for passengers.
Baidu is also ramping up its efforts to reduce traffic congestion where its robotaxi vehicles separate by constructing smart road infrastructure suitable for autonomous vehicles as part of its "ACE" (Autonomous Driving, Connected Road, Efficient Mobility) intelligent transportation solution.
Baidu's ACE is a full-stack solution to help cities in China build intelligent transportation systems, which includes autonomous and 5G connected vehicles. It has been adopted by 24 cities in China with more to come.
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.
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