Baidu has rolled out commercial driverless taxi services in the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Chongqing, expanding the transport option beyond the country's capital Beijing. The launch comes this week with the government releasing China's first draft guidelines on the use of self-driving vehicles for public transport.
Baidu said in a statement that it secured regulatory approvals to collect fares for its driverless taxi service Apollo Go in the two Chinese cities.
The autonomous vehicle manufacturer's vice president and chief safety operation officer of intelligent driving group, Wei Dong, said: "Fully driverless cars providing rides on open roads to paying customers means we have finally come to the moment the industry has been longing for. We believe these permits are a key milestone on the path to the inflection point when the industry can finally roll out fully autonomous driving services at scale."
The launch comes in the same week China published its first set of draft rules outlining guidelines on the deployment of self-driving public transport vehicles, such as buses on its Bus Rapid Transit system. The new laws would allow autonomous vehicles to facilitate taxi services under controllable scenarios and provide a reference point for local agencies, according to a China Daily report.
The draft rules categorise self-driving vehicles into three main groups based on their autonomous capabilities, comprising "conditionally", "highly", and "fully" autonomous vehicles. Those categorised as conditionally and highly autonomous must have human drivers, while remote or safety supervisors should monitor fully autonomous vehicles.
The rules also outlined the routes within which the vehicles plied must be away from densely populated areas, such as hospitals, major shopping malls, and schools.
Chinese regulators are seeking public feedback on the draft laws until September 7.
According to Baidu, it currently is the only company to secure permits to offer commercial autonomous taxi services in Wuhan and Chongqing. It added that it had run multiple tests that included rides with safety operators in the driver and passenger seats, before receiving the permits to operate Apollo Go without human drivers or operators.
The driverless robotaxi service will run in government-designated areas in Wuhan and Chongqing, spanning 13 square kilometres and 30 square kilometres, respectively. Routes in each city will be covered by five Apollo 5th generation vehicles.
Launched in 2020, the autonomous ride-hailing service currently is available in 10 cities across China including Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Wuzhen. Users can hail the robotaxi via Baidu Maps or the Apollo Go mobile app as well as Apollo Go feature on the Baidu app.
To date, the Chinese tech vendor has processed more than one million orders on Apollo Go, clocking 213,000 orders alone in the fourth quarter of 2021. Baidu added that it was targeting to further expand the autonomous transport service to 65 cities across China by 2025, and 100 cities by 2030.