Baidu kicks off robotaxi business, following Beijing city’s fare acceptance

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BEIJING — Baidu can get started accumulating robotaxi fares in a section of Beijing from Thursday, the Chinese tech huge advised CNBC this 7 days, marking a main move towards making its driverless taxi company.

The regulatory acceptance to help robotaxis in China arrives as regional governments in the U.S. have been progressing in a comparable path.

However, Beijing city’s go carries added weight.

Acceptance from China’s money marks the 1st time this sort of a massive town in the nation has permitted businesses to cost the community for robotaxi rides.

It sets the phase for other metropolitan areas like Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen to do the exact, Wei Dong, vice president and main safety procedure officer, at Baidu’s Smart Driving Team explained to CNBC in an exclusive interview.

He expects people metropolitan areas to act later on this yr or early following 12 months.

How considerably will it charge?

Effective Thursday, Baidu’s Apollo unit that operates the robotaxi company can accumulate fares from passengers taking one particular of 67 self-driving autos in Beijing’s suburban district of Yizhuang.

When the company did not disclose precise pricing, it stated fares would be comparable with the high quality level ride-hailing costs offered through applications like Didi, which can cost 2 times as a great deal as normal rides.

A safety staff member gets in a self-driving robotaxi on Oct 13, 2020, in Beijing, China, a few days immediately after Baidu launched demo functions of its Apollo Robotaxi.

Zhao Jing | Visual China Group | Getty Photographs

Baidu has provided absolutely free robotaxi rides in Yizhuang given that October 2020. As of Wednesday, the robotaxi app, branded “Luobo Kuaipao,” showed a sample fare of 34 yuan ($5.31) for a 3-kilometer trip (1.86 miles) from a Sam’s Club in Yizhuang to a nearby subway station.

The same route charges about 14 yuan ($2.19) through Didi’s simple express automobile services. Didi’s sample high quality degree fare for the exact same route is 27 yuan.

So far, the novelty of a no cost, self-driving taxi has drawn a selection of standard consumers in Yizhuang. Wei explained far more than 20,000 consumers every just take at minimum 10 rides a thirty day period. It is unclear how a lot of will hold utilizing the services when they have to fork out for it, but Wei aims to get an additional 100 robotaxi autos verified each individual 12 months.

Robotaxis race for U.S., China acceptance

On Nov. 16, Alibaba-backed autonomous driving company AutoX claimed its absolutely driverless robotaxis now run in the biggest solitary area in China — 168 square kilometers (65 sq. miles) in the Pingshan District of the southern city of Shenzhen. AutoX mentioned it commenced in January to make it possible for the general public to signal up for robotaxi rides. It was not instantly apparent whether or not there was a cost to ride.

Baidu’s allow for professional autonomous motor vehicle functions handles a 60 sq. kilometer location, like a town identified as Yizhuang which is household to a lot of firms these kinds of as’s headquarters. The location is about fifty percent an hour’s travel south of central Beijing.

The Beijing town government has also produced Yizhuang a testing web site for autonomous driving by enabling businesses to trial their jobs there. These include things like JD’s unmanned supply vehicles and Baidu’s robotaxi autos.

Baidu’s growth programs

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On the buyer entrance, Wei mentioned Apollo would target on means to give the person an working experience over and above just a method of transportation — these as displaying the streets of Beijing from 20 decades ago on the automobile home windows, as a substitute of the latest road perspective.

A different approach lies in acquiring ways to make the most of the robotaxi for non-vacation capabilities, these as a area for healthcare remedy or a community library, he explained.

Though Apollo is just a modest aspect of Baidu, its development falls in line with the CEO’s tries to persuade buyers the broader firm’s foreseeable future lies in artificial intelligence and associated spots such as autonomous driving.

The firm’s fastest place of income expansion in the third quarter was in “non-on the web internet marketing income,” up 76% from a year in the past to 5.2 billion yuan ($806 million). Baidu attributed the development to demand for cloud computing and its other AI corporations.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.