Baidu Launches China’s First Driverless Taxi Fleet In Beijing

These fully autonomous robo-taxis from Baidu have begun operation in Beijing’s Shougang Park. 

Baidu has recently launched a fully driverless robo-taxi service in Beijing. Allowing users of the service to hail China’s first fully autonomous cab, with no backup safety driver behind the wheel. 

Touted by the Chinese tech giant as a landmark ‘on the road to commercialization of autonomous driving’, this first-in-the-world paid autonomous vehicle service dubbed the Apollo Go Robotaxi service has begun commercial operation on the 2nd of May in Beijing’s Shougang Park. One of the venue for the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, these driverless taxis will hence be in service of shuttling its users — be it sports personnel or just regular tourists — to sports halls, work areas, coffee shops, and hotels around the vicinity during the games. 

As for how this fully-driverless taxi service works, it is astonishingly much like ordering a regular cab these days, which is to say by way of an app of course. According to Baidu, users can locate a robotaxi in the vicinity by using the Apollo Go smartphone application and hail a driverless ride by themselves through a system of unmanned self-service processes. 

Virtual reality navigation and remote car honking has been included to help users identify the location of these autonomous taxis more easily. And once the hobo-taxi has been found, its doors will only be unlocked once its customers have scanned the QR code and health code on the car which is used for identity verification and pandemic prevention purposes.

Once inside, all the user has to do is click on the ‘Start the Journey’ button for the robo-taxi to begin its journey. Though being such a smart vehicle, this driverless taxi will only set off once it detects that all the doors have been shut and the seat belts fastened. 

Speaking more about Baidu’s Apollo driverless taxi initiative, the Chinese tech giant has actually long been planning the commercialisation of its fully-autonomous cab program for a while now. Having already ran countless scalable autonomous public driving tests in multiple Chinese cities since October and accumulated over 10 million kilometres of road testing for autonomous testing since the program began, the company is now currently aiming to further expand its commercial operations into more cities in the future. 

To those who are still skeptical about getting into one of these driverless cabs however, let it be noted that Guidehouse — a global consulting firm — has recently named Baidu as the top autonomous driving vendors in the world, for the second year running no less. In fact, the AI powerhouse has been established a fleet of 500 autonomous vehicles and had been granted 2,900 patents for intelligent driving over the 8 years that it has dabbled in this field.

Moreover, while the robo-taxis do not have drivers behind the actual wheel, they nevertheless do come with a 5G Remote Driving Service which allows a remote operator to control them in the event of ‘exceptional emergencies’. Having said that all that though, there will probably still be some initial hesitancy when it comes to getting into a car that will go, steer and stop all by itself, regardless of how good the tech is. 

PRESS RELEASE: Baidu, Inc. will open fully driverless robotaxi services to the public in Beijing starting from May 2, 2021, which will be China’s first paid autonomous vehicle service where users can hail a robotaxi without a safety driver behind the steering wheel, marking a landmark step on the road to commercialization of autonomous driving. The fully driverless Apollo Go Robotaxi service will first be launched in Beijing’s Shougang Park – one of the venues for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics – and will soon be transporting visitors at the games.

With the ride-hailing service being launched during the bustling Labor Day holiday period, Baidu will be the first Chinese company offering a fully driverless robotaxi service under commercial operation. By using the Apollo Go App, users can locate a robotaxi in the vicinity and hail a driverless ride by themselves through a system of unmanned self-service processes. Features including virtual reality navigation and remote car honking can help users to identify the location of the car. To unlock the autonomous vehicles, users are required to scan a QR code and health code on the car for identity verification and pandemic prevention purposes.

Upon boarding the vehicle and clicking on the “Start the Journey” button, the system will ensure that seat belts are fastened and the doors are shut, the trip only beginning after all the passenger safety protocol checks are completed. With no safety driver at the helm, the 5G Remote Driving Service is present at all times to allow human operators to remotely access the vehicles in the case of exceptional emergencies.

At Beijing Shougang Park, the robotaxis will be able to transport users to sports halls, work areas, coffee shops and hotels. During the upcoming Winter Olympics, the Apollo robotaxis will be available to provide shuttle services for athletes and staff.

“Introducing unmanned services is an indispensable stage for the commercialization of autonomous driving. Today, we are opening the fully driverless robotaxi services in Beijing for the public, which we achieved only after conducting countless scalable driverless tests in many cities over a long period of time,” said Yunpeng Wang, vice president and general manager of autonomous driving technology at Baidu.

“In the future, Baidu Apollo will launch driverless robotaxis in more cities, enabling the public to access greener, low-carbon, and convenient travel services, while continuing to improve the unmanned service process and user experience,” he said. “The commercialization of autonomous driving can alleviate congestion effectively and help to reach the peak carbon dioxide emissions and achieve carbon neutrality in China.”

Since October last year, Baidu has started autonomous driving tests for the public under trial operations in areas such as Yizhuang, Haidian and Shunyi in Beijing. Baidu Apollo is moving forward to a new stage of scalable commercialized operations with the launch of the fully driverless robotaxi services in the capital, as a starting point of commercialized operations in first-tier Chinese cities. Baidu Apollo recently announced the completion of over 10 million kilometers of road testing for autonomous driving.

Earlier this week, Guidehouse, a leading global consulting firm, named Baidu as one of the top autonomous driving vendors in the world, with Baidu the only Chinese company listed on the Guidehouse leaderboard. Being recognized by Guidehouse as a leading company for a second consecutive year, Baidu has been investing in autonomous driving for eight years, and has an established a car fleet of 500 vehicles for autonomous driving trials. Baidu has been granted 2,900 patents for intelligent driving and 221 test drive licenses, among which 179 are to test self-driving cars for carrying passengers.

Joshua Chin

Automotive journalist. Professional work on and Personal writing found at Instagram: @driveeveryday

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