Baidu Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp.-backed startup Pony. ai announced on Friday that they have received the first licences to test-run fully autonomous vehicles in Beijing without safety workers.
Baidu Inc. also announced that it would add 200 more robotaxis to its network in China during the next year. To diversify, the Beijing-based company, which derives most of its revenue from its Chinese internet search engine, has worked on self-driving technologies for the past five years. Last year, Baidu began charging for its robotaxi service Apollo Go. It has been estimated that robotaxis will eventually cost half as much as a commercial vehicle with a driver.
According to Baidu, Apollo Go, which operates without a safety driver in Wuhan and Chongqing, delivered 1,400,000 driverless rides at the end of the third quarter. As a step toward launching a robotaxi service in the Chinese capital, the business announced that it would begin testing ten completely autonomous vehicles in a technology park developed by the Beijing government. Baidu’s initiative comes at a time when other businesses outside of China are pulling back from the optimistic rollout plan for fully driverless vehicles.
Pony.ai, a competitor that operates in both China and the United States, has been conducting research and development on autonomous driving technology in Guangzhou, where it runs a taxi service. In addition, the company is conducting research and development on driverless vehicles in the states of California and Arizona, with safety drivers acting as observers.
Automakers outside China have retracted from the aggressive implementation plan anticipated a few years ago, and regulatory roadblocks have sprung up.
Three years after CEO Elon Musk said the business would produce a fleet of a million robotaxis, Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” technology requires a human behind the wheel ready to take charge. Tesla has been charged with fraud in the United States for claiming that its electric vehicles can drive themselves. Cruise, General Motors Co.’s robotaxi unit, has announced plans to add thousands of autonomous vehicles and expand its service across San Francisco and other U.S. cities in the coming year. U.S. auto safety officials announced earlier this month that they had launched an investigation into the autonomous driving system employed by Cruise following occurrences where the vehicles braked incorrectly or were immobile. Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen AG shut down their joint self-driving venture, Argo AI, in October after concluding that mass deployment of a commercial autonomous drive system would require more time and money than the firms anticipated when they joined in 2019.
Pony.ai agreed in March to patch a version of its autonomous driving software in the U.S. after an informal investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that a fault led a test vehicle to crash into a traffic median in California.
China is placing its bets on electric and autonomous vehicles, with a number of Chinese manufacturers already producing ready-made vehicles and internet giants such as Alibaba, Huawei, and Xiaomi making preparations to enter the business.
Even so-called “smart roads” fitted with sensors that let certain cars go at higher speeds and control traffic flows in order to lessen the impact of bottlenecks such as traffic lights have been put through their paces by the Chinese government and tested.