Baidu said it received approval from Chinese cities to provide its ride-hailing service, which is mainly operated without a safety or driver in the vehicle. The company noted that it would charge passengers for its service in the cities of Shenyang and Wuhan.
The company, which is the first Chinese firm to get this type of permit, said it would operate its service in Wuhan and Changchun from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It would also operate in a 30 square-kilometer area in the city of Chongqing.
Baidu’s vice president for intelligence driving said that the company’s decision to launch its ride-hailing service in these regions shows that the industry is finally ready to embrace the future.
Around the world, companies that are developing autonomous vehicles are trying to establish a business model that will allow them to make money from their technology. In June, General Motors’ Cruise LLC received a permit to operate fully autonomous cars in San Francisco. In March, Google’s Waymo and its sibling company started offering rides without a human behind the wheel.
Since 2020, Chinese companies have been catching up to the US when it comes to testing driverless cars on public roads. Over a dozen cities in the country have started pilot programs for testing autonomous vehicles.
Despite China’s efforts to lead the way in the development of autonomous vehicles, regulators in the country have been reluctant to allow ride-sharing services that don’t require a human driver to take the wheel.
The issuance of the permit shows that Chinese regulators are starting to ease their restrictions on the entry of new businesses.
In December, two companies, namely Baidu and Pony.ai, received permits to operate their robotaxi services in Beijing without having human drivers on the roads. However, they still need to have a safety person beside the steering wheel.
Some passengers might be hesitant to ride in a self-driving car due to the lack of human interaction. For instance, Jin Jianbing, an ecommerce worker in Beijing, said he would be interested in testing the service, but he would not use it while traveling with his family.
According to Mr. Wei, a Baidu representative, the company plans to double the number of its robotaxi cars in China during the October-December quarter. It will also start charging for the service in five cities. Currently, the company has one staff person monitoring the vehicles remotely.
Baidu, which is China’s leading search engine, said it will start offering a new service that will allow users to pay for a ride using its Apollo Moon electric vehicle. The company noted that it would initially add five cars to the service in each of the two cities.
In 2023, the company plans to launch a new car that will feature a steering wheel that can be removed. According to Mr. Wei, the upcoming model will help Baidu achieve its goal of becoming profitable.
China’s first set of regulations on the use of autonomous cars came into effect on August 1. In the southern city of Shenzhen, fully-autonomous vehicles are only allowed to operate in designated areas. The operators of such cars are also expected to take responsibility for any violations.