In China, the tech giant Baidu launched a driverless taxi service on last month, making it the first company in Beijing, to popularize autonomous driving. Unlike other previous Baidu autonomous driving trials in Beijing there was no safety driver behind the wheel. But in the recent launch a security member will be seated in the front passenger seat to respond to any issue or query of the passenger.
Currently up to ten Apollo “Robotaxis” are now running in a 3 square kilometer (1.2 square mile) area in western Beijing picking up and dropping off passengers at eight stations. Passengers aged 18 to 60 will take the journey for 30 yuan ($4.60).
In spite of all other robotic features, the Robotaxis are designed to force stop when it senses jaywalkers or interested visitors who approached the vehicles for pictures. Passengers can order a robotaxi through the Apollo Go app. Before getting into the cab, passengers must get their identity checked and can also verify medical conditions by using the same smartphone app. Along with the self-driving feature, whenever the taxi senses that the passengers have buckled up the seat belt it will begin to drive.
Amy Li, one of the visitors, expressed concerns about autonomous driving, mentioning the complexity of driving activity on the lane. We’ve also seen incidents where other vehicles have jumped the line or made a dramatic lane change. People have feelings while robots do not at least for the time being she said. “Robots will not be able to cope with those changes.”
Since last year, Baidu which is known for its search engines has been exploring autonomous vehicles on public roads. According to a press release, the company’s Apollo Go robotaxi service has transported more than 210,000 passengers in three cities across China and plans to extend it services to 30 cities in the next three years.
Kelly Wang, the Vice President and General Manager of Baidu’s autonomous driving technology said, “In the future, Baidu Apollo will release driverless robotaxis in more cities allowing the public to access greener, low-carbon, and easy transport services while continuing to enhance the unmanned service mechanism and user experience”.
Baidu’s Apollo open platform, which was launched in 2017, has led China’s efforts to improve autonomous driving technology with government support. Leading automakers from the United States, Japan, and Europe, as well as chipmaker like NXP Semiconductors and others, are a part of its network. In the next three to five years, the target is to get 1 million vehicles fitted with Apollo technology and get them down to the road.
Baidu is also working with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group to develop and market hybrid cars with self-driving capabilities. According to Chinese reports, the two companies are spending 50 billion yuan over five years, with plans to unleash the new vehicles within three years.
This sounds like a lot tech action on the road of China!