Baidu becomes first firm to commercialise autonomous driving operations in China

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China’s tech giant Baidu has started operations of its paid driverless taxi service in Beijing, making it the first company in China to commercialise the autonomous driving technology.

Baidu’s previous autonomous driving demonstrations in Beijing had a safety driver behind the wheel at all times whereas the latest operation is the first time when there is no such safety driver. Instead, there is a safety member seated in the front passenger seat to take care of any emergency that might occur.

Up to 10 Apollo robotaxis from Baidu are operating simultaneously in a three-square-kilometer area, picking up and dropping off passengers at eight stops in Shougang Park in western Beijing. The rides are open to passengers aged between 18 and 60 and the cost of each ride has been kept at 30 yuan ($4.60).

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Passengers can book a Baidu robotaxi on an app called Apollo Go. They can get inside the taxi once they get their identities verified. Once this and done and the passengers are seated inside, the taxi detects if they have fastened their seat belts and moves only after that.

Some passengers who took boarded the robotaxi told the Associated Press that they had a smooth ride experience in the autonomous vehicle. “I would recommend people experience this. There is a strong sense of technology, because nobody is in the driver’s seat,” Kelly Wang, Vice President and General Manager of autonomous driving technology at Baidu, was quoted as saying.

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Baidu, which is known for its search engines, has been testing autonomous driving technology on the open road since last year. Its Apollo Go robotaxi service has ferried more than 210,000 passengers in three cities across China and the company aims to expand to 30 cities in the next three years. “In the future, Baidu Apollo will launch driverless robotaxis in more cities, enabling the public to access greener, low-carbon and convenient travel services,” Wang added.

(with inputs from the Associated Press)