Baidu obtains the first permits for fully driverless taxis in China

CNN Business

Tech giant Baidu announced on Monday that it had secured permits to operate fully self-driving taxis without any human assistants on board in two of China’s megacities, marking a first for the country.

Baidu, which operates China’s largest search engine, said it received regulatory approvals for its Apollo Go autonomous ride service to operate on open routes during the day in Chongqing and Wuhan. The cities have populations of around 30 million and 11 million people, respectively.

The move represents a notable step forward for Baidu and a potential shift in how comfortable China is with new technology. In other cities where the company’s robotaxis operate, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, Baidu is required to have a human safety operator present in the vehicle.

“We have finally arrived at the moment the industry has been waiting for,” Wei Dong, vice president and director of safety operations at Baidu’s Smart Driving Group, said in a statement on Monday. “We believe these permits are a key step on the road to the inflection point where the industry can finally deploy fully autonomous driving services at scale.”

The permits will allow Baidu to provide fully driverless robotaxi services in designated areas in Wuhan from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Chongqing from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. local time. However, the service will be limited at first, with only five robotaxis operating in each city.

In the United States, robotaxi offers remain extremely rare, and ride-sharing giants like Uber and Lyft have abandoned in-house self-driving taxi efforts. In June, General Motors-backed Cruise won permits in California to charge a fare for driverless rides in San Francisco. In July, however, Reuters reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had opened an investigation into a Cruise self-driving vehicle crash that resulted in minor injuries.

Waymo One, the self-driving transportation service operated by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, currently offers fully self-driving rides in the Phoenix area.