September 11th, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
I recently wrote an article about 10 existing and planned robotaxi services. One of those was the Apollo Go Robotaxi service launched by Baidu in Changsha, China, on Earth Day, April 20. It turns out that robotaxi service was also launched in Cangzhou, China, in August, and now it’s just been launched in Beijing. This is the first robotaxi service to be operating in the capital of China.
According to Baidu, it is the only company operating robotaxi services in more than one Chinese city. To start off, the Beijing arm of the service covers 700 km (435 miles) and uses 40 robotaxi vehicles. It includes 100 pickup/drop-off locations — it’s not a door-to-door service, but rather a “station-to-station” service. Those stations are currently spread throughout the Yizhuang, Haidian, and Shunyi districts.
It is currently free to use this robotaxi service, a common approach for these early trials. Presumably, free is the way to go because 1) gathering data is particularly valuable for these companies right now, and 2) people may be concerned about using self-driving taxis, so may need a bit of a nudge.
At the moment, as in most of these initial robotaxi services around the world, there are “safety drivers/technicians” prepared to take over if the driverless car somehow messes up and either wants to do something stupid or just gets stuck.
You can sign up and book rides for Apollo Go robotaxi service via Baidu Maps (which is akin to Google Maps for those of us outside of China) or on the Apollo website.
“The launch event was held at Apollo Park, the world’s largest autonomous driving and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) test base and one of the Apollo Go stations, located in the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area,” a news release noted.
“Beijing, the technology and innovation center of China, is a strategic location for AI and autonomous driving development. As the first city in China to regulate and open autonomous driving road test zones, Beijing has comprehensive infrastructure and policies to foster high-speed development of the industry. In 2019, Beijing ranked first in China for numbers of test licenses and vehicle categories, as well as diversity of test scenarios. In addition, Beijing has issued the most stringent safety requirements for manned autonomous driving tests in China to ensure the safety and reliability of the industry.”
Indeed — Baidu got a test license in Beijing nearly a year ago. Actually, Baidu Apollo “claimed 40 of the first batch of manned autonomous driving test licenses issued by the city.” With those licenses, Baidu Apollo logged 519,000 kilometers (322,500 miles) of test driving in Beijing. Additionally, the company boasts that 2018 and 2019 reports on the sector found that Baidu had the highest number of test vehicles on the road, the highest total kilometers/miles traveled, and the most diverse test scenarios. We also reported on some of this in April 2019 after the first report. The story early on showed Baidu had a big lead: “Eight tech companies in China’s capital city of Beijing have logged a total of 95,442.6 miles (153,600 kilometers) in their autonomous vehicle fleets in 2018, according to a recent report from the city’s transportation regulators. The company leading the charge, responsible for 91% of the self-driving mileage, is Baidu.”
“Baidu Apollo will continue pushing for the commercial application of autonomous driving. With our technology and platform advantages, we will contribute more to the development of autonomous driving and smart transportation in Beijing and support the city to become a world-leading AI innovation hub,” said Zhenyu Li, Corporate Vice President of Baidu and General Manager of Intelligent Driving Group (IDG).
If you’re now curious about other robotaxi services in and outside of China, I do recommend reading “10 Robotaxi Services — Existing & Planned.” Another Chinese tech giant easing its way into this field is Didi Chuxing (DiDi), which has much potential simply due to the fact that it currently has more 550 million users taking more than 10 billion passenger trips a year in its non-robotaxi vehicles. As robotaxi tech advances, it could rapidly roll out vehicles in cities around the world.
There’s also AutoX in Shanghai, which anticipates soon expanding into Shenzhen, Wuhan, and Wuhu. That would make AutoX the service in operation in the most cities, presuming Baidu (or some other company) doesn’t expand further by then.
Which company will roll out completely unmanned self-driving robotaxis at a large scale first? Who knows? Though, Baidu certainly seems prepped to claim that title, in China if not globally.
All images courtesy Baidu Apollo.
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