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China's Baidu Granted a Permit to Collect Fares From Passengers Using its Fully-Autonomous ‘Apollo Go' Robotaxi Service in Beijing

China's Baidu Granted a Permit to Collect Fares From Passengers Using its Fully-Autonomous ‘Apollo Go' Robotaxi Service in Beijing

Author: Eric Walz   

China's Baidu Inc announced that it was granted a service permit for Beijing's newly-launched zone for autonomous driving commercial services, which allows the company to charge for rides in its fully-autonomous ride-hailing vehicles. The autonomous commercial services zone in Beijing is the first such zone established in China. 

Baidu's robotaxi service is called Apollo Go. Being able to charge for rides in completely autonomous vehicles marks first-ever commercial deployment on open roads in Beijing, as Baidu moves closer to large-scale commercial operation of Apollo Go. Baidu also said it received over 400 other autonomous driving permits in China to scale the service.

The Apollo Go vehicles developed by Baidu are designed to operate completely autonomous, with no safety drivers on board. 

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. 

The autonomous vehicle commercial permit was granted by the head office of the Beijing High-level Automated Driving Demonstration Area (BJHAD). It allows Baidu to collect fares within the designated area. 

The Apollo Go service is available to the public seven days a week, from 7am to 10pm. By using the Apollo Go smartphone app, users can locate one of 67 fully-autonomous vehicles in the area to hail a ride.

The robotaxi service area covers 60 square kilometers in the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone. The service includes over 600 pick-up and drop-off points in both commercial and residential areas. 

Baidu_Apollo.jpeg

A fully-autonomous "Apollo Go" robotaxi can be summoned using a smartphone app in Beijing.

Baidu is investing heavily in autonomous driving and related technologies to support the rollout of an autonomous mobility ecosystem in China, which includes self driving technology for passenger vehicles and multi-passenger shuttles.

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

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

Apollo Go is still in the initial stages of expansion. Baidu says it will continue to add autonomous vehicles to the fleet and expand the coverage area to meet the needs of local commuters. The autonomous ride-hailing service marks the beginnings of the rapid development of commercialized autonomous driving in China.

Baidu's Apollo Go autonomous ride-hailing service now operates in Beijing, Guangzhou, Changsha, Cangzhou, and Shanghai.

In the third quarter of 2021, Baidu's Apollo Go provided 115,000 rides, which made it the largest robotaxi service provider in the world, Baidu CEO, Robin Li, said in an earnings call last week. 

As of September, the Apollo fleet of L4 autonomous vehicles accumulated over 10 million test miles on public roads, an increase of 189% year over year. 

Baidu plans to expand Apollo Go operations into 65 cities across China by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030.

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


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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