Tech giant Baidu is trialing its Apollo “robotaxi” service in the Chinese city of Changsha, becoming one of the first companies to carry passengers in autonomous vehicles, although human drivers are there just in case.
Residents in Changsha, the capital city of central China’s Hunan province, can hail autonomous taxis for free through Baidu’s widely used navigation app Baidu Maps, according to a statement released by the Chinese company on Monday.
Currently, the robotaxi service is limited to specific parts of the city which include residential areas, commercial zones and industrial complexes, the statement said. Each taxi has a backup driver in the car who is ready to take manual control in the event of an emergency.
The launch of the robotaxi service comes as Baidu celebrates the third anniversary of launching its open-source Apollo platform, which aims to give third-parties access to technology needed for research and development into autonomous vehicles such as high-definition mapping and obstacle perception technology.
On Sunday, Li Zhenyu, general manager of Baidu’s intelligent driving group, wrote in an internal letter to his employees that the company will continue to develop the vehicle-road coordination technology, which will “contribute to the modernization of urban governance system.”
The technology is used to increase the interaction between smart road infrastructure and an autonomous vehicle, which in turn strengthens the car’s capabilities of understanding its surrounding road conditions. The technology has also been identified by the Chinese government as a possible solution to some of the safety concerns about driverless cars.
Baidu is just one of several Chinese tech firms harboring plans to launch autonomous taxi services in the country. Last week, self-driving startup AutoX opened a self-driving taxi operations center in Shanghai in preparation for its upcoming robotaxi pilot project in the financial hub. Ride-hailing service provider Didi Chuxing also has a similar plan.
Contact reporter Ding Yi (firstname.lastname@example.org)