Thursday, 6 May 2021

Baidu rolls out paid driverless taxi service in Beijing

AP Photo/Andy Wong

BEIJING – Chinese tech giant Baidu rolled out its paid driverless taxi service on Sunday, making it the first company to commercialize autonomous driving operations in China.

Unlike previous Baidu autonomous driving demonstrations in Beijing, this was the first time there was no safety driver sitting behind the wheel. Instead, a safety member was seated in the front passenger seat to deal with any emergencies.

Up to 10 Apollo “robotaxis” are now operating simultaneously in an area of about 3 square kilometers (1.2 square miles), picking up and dropping off passengers at eight stops in Shougang Park in western Beijing. Each ride costs 30 yuan ($4.60), and is open to passengers ages 18 to 60.

The park is a former site of iron and steel plants that’s been redeveloped into a sightseeing destination and a future venue for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Although traffic flows aren’t heavy, an influx of tourists was seen in the park on the second day of China’s international labor day holiday.

The robotaxis were repeatedly forced to brake when encountering jaywalkers or curious tourists who came close to the vehicles for photos.

Kelly Wang and her husband, who both work in the artificial intelligence industry, said they had a smooth riding experience.

“I would recommend people experience this. There is a strong sense of technology, because nobody is in the driver’s seat,” Wang said. Her husband was even considering buying such a car for their household.

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