Baidu obtains plates to test autonomous cars on public roads in Beijing

Local Beijing authority releases temporary licenses for autonomous driving tests in the city soon after the fatal accident caused by an unmanned Uber car in the US.

Beijing's traffic authority has issued five plates to Baidu on Thursday, allowing the Chinese search engine giant to start testing self-driving vehicles developed by the company on public roads.

Temporary plates for autonomous driving tests are designated into five categories, ranging from T1 to T5. The five T3 plates obtained by Baidu on Thursday are so far the highest level of plates issued in China, and require the tested vehicles to possess comprehensive abilities including cognition and traffic law compliance, route execution, and emergency execution, according to a Sina news report.

The Beijing traffic authority has set stringent requirements for autonomous driving tests on public roads in the city. All the tests are only allowed to be conducted on 33 roads with a total length of 105km outside the "fifth ring road" in Beijing, which is about 10km from the centre of the city.

Tested vehicles must have passed routine training and capability assessment of more than 5,000km at a closed test site. Beijing has also built a closed 13.3-hectare area in the Haidian District for testing autonomous cars.

Test drivers, who need to be able to take over the control of test vehicles any time, are required to receive no less than 50 hours of self-driving training, said the report.

Chinese governments have not been put off by news from the US that a female pedestrian was killed by an Uber car operating in autonomous mode on Sunday. Uber has halted its self-driving car tests in every city in the the country as a result.

Earlier this month, Chinese electric vehicle startup NIO and state-owned automaker SAIC Motor became the first two Chinese firms to receive approval from Shanghai's local authority to test their self-driving vehicles in the city.

Baidu launched Apollo, its open autonomous driving platform that enables partners to develop their own autonomous driving systems, in April 2017. It has already enlisted over 70 industry partners so far.

In September last year, the Chinese search giant also established a $1.5 billion fund to speed up driverless car development in the country.

Last week, Baidu's founder and CEO Robin Li said in Beijing that he expects it will take another three to five years before the self-driving cars eventually hit the roads in China.

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