Baidu inks partnership to build 1,000 autonomous robotaxis

Chinese tech vendor expands its partnership with state-owned manufacturer BAIC Group to build 1,000 autonomous electric vehicles, for 480,000 yuan ($74,987) each, over the next three years.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Baidu has inked a partnership that will see the Chinese tech giant build 1,000 autonomous ride-hailing electric vehicles over the the next three years. Its fifth generation of robotaxis will be produced at 480,000 yuan ($74,987) each, which it touts is a third of the average cost of manufacturing a Level 4 self-driving vehicle. 

The announcement Thursday was an expansion of its existing partnership with local state-owned manufacturer BAIC Group, specifically, with the latter's electric vehicle unit Arcfox. Previously more widely known for its search engine, Baidu shifted gears in 2015 when it began developing autonomous vehicles, testing them on roads in Beijing and California, USA. 

Called Apollo Moon, its next generation of robotaxis would be built on the Arcfox Alpha-T, a fully electric five-seater SUV. The vehicle would be suited up with various sensors, including 13 cameras and five millimeter-wave radars, computing unit redundancy functions, and failure detector and degradable processing algorithms. It also would sport new features such as an artificial intelligent--powered (AI) voice assistant, mobile app climate control, and intelligent car doors. 

Apollo Moon would run on Baidu's ANP-Robotaxi architecture, a navigation platform currently in pilot that the Chinese vendor said could reduce the weight of autonomous vehicle kits and generate driving data insights within "a closed-loop information ecosystem". 

The autonomous vehicles had an estimated operating cycle of at least five years and, at a per unit manufacturing price of 480,000 yuan, would cost significantly lower to produce than the industry average of 1.5 million yuan per unit, said Baidu. This would help achieve better scalability and drive the adoption of autonomous ride-hailing services in China, the vendor said. 

It also would expand Baidu's Apollo service to more urban cities across the country, it said, adding that the robotaxi service currently was available in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chongqing. 

According to Baidu, the cumulative testing mileage of its autonomous vehicles clocked in at more than 12 million kilometres and was growing at 40,000 kilometres per day. It claimed to have secured 2,900 patents for intelligent driving and 244 road testing licenses. 

In 2017, it opened up access to its Apollo autonomous vehicle platform, letting partners in the automotive industry to develop their own autonomous driving systems. This included access to tools for obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, and operating systems.


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