Chinese internet giant Baidu has launched its Apollo Go Robotaxi service in the eastern Hebei province, extending its robotaxi service coverage for the first time to a downtown city area.
Baidu, headquartered in Beijing’s Haidian District and one of the world’s largest artificial intelligence and internet companies in the world, announced last Friday that it had extended coverage of its Apollo Go Robotaxi service into downtown Cangzhou.
It is seen as a significant milestone for the company’s development of autonomous driving technology and its longer-term aim to bring about an era of intelligent transportation.
First introduced in Cangzhou back in November with manned autonomous driving testing on certain of the city’s road networks, Baidu’s Apollo fleet began testing with passengers shortly thereafter.
Baidu also launched in April of this year in a 130 square kilometre region of Changsha, Hunan province in the country’s south-east.
“Through over six months of operation among seed users, Baidu’s Apollo robotaxi program has set up a complete mechanism for safety evaluation and technical support,” the company said an April statement. “This time [we are ready to] launch the service at a large-scale to the public.”
The newly expanded Apollo Go Robotaxi service in Cangzhou now covers 55 pick-up and drop-off locations around the city which include everything from train stations, schools, hotels, museums, business and industrial areas, and other public spaces.
And while Baidu is heralding the arrival of ‘autonomous’ driving, the company also noted that “a human operator is assigned to each vehicle to take control of the autonomous system as a backup.”
Customers in Cangzhou can hail a free robotaxi ride through Baidu Maps and follows what Baidu describes as “years of extensive testing and trial operations across several cities.”
As such, Baidu believes that the technological development acquired through such extensive testing allows robotaxis to operate more safely in busier areas that create more variables for an autonomous driving system to process.
Baidu’s decision to roll-out its robotaxi service in Cangzhou benefited from the fact that it is strategically located within the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and on the Beijing-Shanghai corridor.
Further, the city has recently invested heavily in the development of intelligent network technology which has helped to facilitate the rollout of autonomous driving.
For example, Cangzhou was the first city in northern China to allow manned autonomous driving tests and has built one of the largest road networks for testing autonomous vehicles.
In addition to its operations in Changsha and Cangzhou, Baidu’s Apollo Go Robotaxi service continues to conduct manned autonomous driving tests in China’s capital of Beijing, Chongqing, and other cities.
All told, Baidu Apollo is the world’s largest autonomous driving open platform which a fleet of around 500 autonomous driving vehicles that have driven over 6 million kilometres and safely carried over 100,000 passengers.
Apollo now also boasts over 150 autonomous driving road test licenses and over 1,800 intelligent driving patents around the globe.