Chinese tech giant Baidu on Thursday received the first-ever permits in China authorizing the company to provide driverless ride-hailing services to the public on open roads in Beijing. This approval indicates a regulatory openness to taking a further step towards a fully driverless mobility future.
With these permits issued by the head office of the Beijing High-level Automated Driving Demonstration Area (BJHAD), ten autonomous vehicles without drivers to monitor from behind the steering wheel will offer rides to passengers within a designated area of 60 square kilometers in Beijing. These licensed cars will join an existing fleet provided by Apollo Go, Baidu’s autonomous ride-hailing service platform, in China’s capital city. Starting Thursday, users will be able to hail a driverless ride using the Apollo Go mobile app from between 10:00 to 16:00 in the day.
Currently, Baidu has the largest autonomous driving fleet in China. The company plans to add 30 more such vehicles at a later stage, expanding its fleet to provide more convenient driverless services to the public.
The new permits represent Beijing’s collaborative and safety-first approach to autonomous vehicle regulation, progressing from the manned autonomous driving stage to the fully driverless stage. They also represent a benchmark regulation for the global autonomous vehicle industry, given the complexity and high density of urban traffic in Beijing.
Baidu’s success in securing this regulatory permission can be attributed to its strong foundation in AI and its leading test-drive mileage. Baidu has a proven track record of over 27 million kilometers (16 million miles) of road testing accumulated in the past nine years with zero traffic accidents, including mileage recorded by driverless test cars in multiple cities across China as well as in California.
Apollo Go has expanded to nine cities in China since its initial launch in 2020, including all first-tier cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou), and five other cities (Chongqing, Changsha, Cangzhou, Yangquan and Wuzhen). There were 213,000 orders recorded on Apollo Go in Q4 2021, making it the global industry leader in terms of order volume.