Baidu has received approval for its driverless vehicles to hit the road.
In July, Baidu Inc., a Chinese-based company and the world’s largest robotaxi provider, announced that its newest fully autonomous vehicle, the Apollo RT6, will be released in 2023. The all-electric vehicle is designed for urban environments and will be part of Baidu’s ride-sharing service Apollo Go.
The sixth-generation vehicle will cost $37,000, much less than current self-driving cars. Co-founder and CEO Robin Li hopes this vehicle will lower the cost of its taxi service and speed up autonomous vehicle (AV) deployment.
Baidu recently received approval to release its driverless vehicles on the road in two Chinese cities—Wuhan and Chongqing. Before the approval, driverless taxis were required to have a human driver in the vehicle. Now, passengers may find themselves stepping into an empty vehicle that will drive them to their destination.
The driverless taxis will only be available during mandated hours and will be restricted to certain areas of the cities. Even with the limited reach, receiving this approval puts Baidu ahead of its competitors. The company says that it will work with other Chinese cities to receive similar approvals.
Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, reached a similar agreement with San Francisco officials in June of this year.
Cruise plans to launch 30 vehicles in the next few months. Before receiving approval, the vehicles were required to have a driver who could take over in case of emergency. The vehicles are now allowed to operate without a driver in certain areas of the city, provided they stay at certain speed limits.
Other driverless-taxis such as Alphabet’s Waymo also operate in the U.S. with varying restrictions depending on the city.
Opponents of self-driving vehicles cite safety concerns, arguing that the technology is not yet sufficient to handle certain situations.