January 30, 2023

SINGAPORE – China has taken a remarkable regulatory step in the field of driverless taxis, giving two cities Baidu a company

Baidu -1.61%

Approval of the operation of ride services without a driver or a person supervising the safety of the vehicle.

She added that the Chinese search engine giant, which already operates self-driving taxis, is planning to add five unmanned vehicles to the cities of Wuhan and Chongqing. The company said these vehicles will operate in specific areas of those cities during the day, when there is more traffic on the road. The approvals also allow Baidu to charge users for trips, it added.

China is catching up with the United States in the field of autonomous driving, and has been increasingly active in establishing regulations that allow self-driving vehicles on public roads. Establishing such a regulatory framework helps clarify rules and responsibilities and opens avenues for companies to conduct business.

This month, the southern city of Shenzhen began implementing new rules that state that driverless cars can only be operated in designated areas, and that service operators of these cars will be held liable in the event of traffic accidents.

Wei Dong, deputy head of Baidu’s intelligence leadership division, said Baidu’s issuance of permits highlights that Chinese regulators have established ground rules to control a new area of ​​business. More than a dozen cities in China have set up pilot areas to test autonomous vehicles on public roads since authorities began approving such tests in 2020.

In the United States, GM’s Cruise LLC in June received permission to charge for all-night driverless cruises in San Francisco, while Waymo LLC, Alphabet Inc. a company

The unit, earlier this year, began running cars without any human control, also in San Francisco. Trips on Waymo are free and only available to its employees.

In central China’s Wuhan, Baidu will operate its services in a designated area of ​​about 5 square miles, while in the southwestern city of Chongqing, in an area of ​​about 12 square miles, the company said.

Driverless robotics have already been approved in certain areas of Beijing, but a safe person must be seated next to the driver’s seat. Last month, Baidu and Pony.ai, a competitor backed by Toyota Motor corp.

They obtained commercial permits for such services there.

Mr. Wei said Beijing-based Baidu plans to double the size of its automated taxi fleet in China to more than 600 by the October-December quarter. For every two bots in service, he said, there is one Baidu employee who monitors vehicles remotely.

Jin Jianping, an e-commerce worker in Beijing who has been on Baidu robotaxi trips, said he would be excited to try the new service, but would not use it immediately with his family. He said he believed in the safety of self-driving vehicles, but added, “I will be conservative with the elderly and children.”

write to Raphael Huang at [email protected]

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