Baidu has announced that its fully driverless autonomous taxi service will be hitting the streets of Beijing from May 2, making it the first available paid robotaxi service in China.
Its Apollo Go service will initially be available at Shougang Park -- one of the venues for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics -- where passengers can travel between sport halls, work areas, coffee shops, hotels, and be available to shuttle athletes and staff during the Olympics.
Using the Apollo Go app, passengers can locate a self-driving taxi in the vicinity and hail a driverless ride through a self-service process. Once the car arrives, users are required to scan a QR code and health code on the car for identify verification and COVID-19 contact tracing before the doors of the autonomous unlock. Once a passenger has boarded, they push the "start the journey" button for the ride to begin.
The company, however, emphasised before any trip begins the system will go through "all the passenger safety protocol checks" including ensuring that all seat belts are fastened and doors are shut, and that a human operators will be able remotely access the vehicle over 5G during "exceptional" emergencies.
"Introducing unmanned services is an indispensable stage for the commercialisation of autonomous driving. Today, we are opening the fully driverless robotaxi services in Beijing for the public, which we achieved only after conducting countless scalable driverless tests in many cities over a long period of time," Baidu autonomous driving technology vice president Yunpeng Wang said.
According to the company, it has been running tests of its autonomous vehicles since last October in areas such as Yizhuang, Haidian, and Shunyi in Beijing.
Earlier this year, Baidu and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group jointly created a new company focusing on the production of self-driving cars.
The search giant will focus on developing intelligent driving capabilities for these cars while Geely, which creates vehicles under the Volvo, Lotus, and Geely brands, will contribute with its automobile design and manufacturing capabilities.