China has granted Chinese Internet services company Baidu Inc (百度) and a rival autonomous car company, Pony.ai Inc (小馬智行), permits to provide driverless ride-hailing services to the public in Beijing, a significant regulatory step in the nation’s pursuit of driverless technology.
The permits allow Baidu and Pony.ai to offer rides without a safety driver behind the wheel to take over in cases of an emergency. The new permits still require a safety supervisor to be seated in the front passenger seat.
Baidu said that 10 such autonomous cars yesterday started offering rides to passengers within a 60km2 area in suburban Beijing.
Baidu already operates an autonomous fleet of taxis in Beijing under its Apollo Go ride-hailing services, but they must have a safety driver behind the wheel.
China has ambitions to lead autonomous driving technology globally, but lags the US in introducing such services. Alphabet Inc’s Waymo began offering driverless taxi services in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2020.
In 2020, Beijing set a goal for 70 percent of vehicles sold in 2030 to have Level 2 and Level 3 self-driving technology.
Level 2 is partial driving automation, which means the vehicle can control steering and speed.
Level 3 automation means that the vehicle can detect what is going on around it and drive itself.
Baidu — best known for its search engine and online advertising services — has in the past few years invested heavily in autonomous driving and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, including automated personal assistants and AI chips.
The company said in a statement that it has accumulated more than 27 million kilometers of road testing over the past nine years with no traffic accidents.
Baidu’s Apollo Go autonomous taxi services operate in nine cities across China, including Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
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