Baidu kicks off its robotaxi business in Beijing

Baidu

Baidu can start collecting robotaxi fares in a part of Beijing from Thursday, the Chinese tech giant told CNBC this week.

The regulatory approval to support robotaxis in China comes as local governments in the U.S. have been progressing in a similar direction.

Approval from China’s capital marks the first time such a large city in the country has allowed companies to charge the public for robotaxi rides.

Effective Thursday, Baidu’s Apollo unit that runs the robotaxi business can collect fares from passengers taking one of 67 self-driving cars in Beijing’s suburban district of Yizhuang.

While the company did not disclose exact pricing, it said fares would be comparable with the premium level ride-hailing charges available through apps like Didi, which can cost twice as much as ordinary rides.

Baidu can only offer public robotaxi rides when a human staff member is accompanying passengers.

The company has been testing fully autonomous driverless vehicles in Beijing.

The cost of a human driver accounts for about 60% of the user payment in ride-sharing, according to a Credit Suisse report last month.

On Nov. 16, Alibaba-backed autonomous driving company AutoX claimed its fully driverless robotaxis now operate in the largest single region in China — 168 square kilometers (65 square miles) in the Pingshan District of the southern city of Shenzhen.

AutoX said it began in January to allow the public to sign up for robotaxi rides. It was not immediately clear whether there was a cost to ride.

Baidu’s permit for commercial autonomous vehicle operations covers a 60 square kilometer area, including a town called Yizhuang that’s home to many businesses such as JD.com’s headquarters. The region is about half an hour’s drive south of central Beijing.

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