Baidu plans to deploy robot taxis in 100 cities by 2030 • The Register

Chinese web giant Baidu has revealed plans to introduce its self-driving taxi service to 65 cities by 2025, then add another 35 cities by 2030.

CEO and co-founder Robin Li revealed those targets on Tuesday during the company’s fourth quarter 2021 earnings call – on which he also said self-driving taxi service Apollo Go provided 213,000 rides during of the quarter, almost doubling attendance. The service offers level four autonomy, so it can only operate without human control in geo-fenced areas. And the company still has “safety drivers” in certain cities, to ensure punctual interventions in the name of safety.

Li also revealed that Baidu has even started charging for rides in its automatic taxis, but only in Beijing, Chongqing and Yangquan.

The demand for computing power to run these taxis and other AI applications stood out in the company’s fourth quarter results. Revenue for the quarter reached $5.2 billion, up 9% year-over-year. Annual revenue of $19.5 billion represents a jump of 19%. AI cloud revenue grew 60% year-over-year in the fourth quarter and 64% for the full year to $2.4 billion. It’s not a figure that will scare off Microsoft or AWS, and represents less than a quarter of local rival Alibaba’s annual cloud revenue.

But Li said Baidu’s cloud is outpacing rivals’ growth. Baidu is also focusing its cloud on AI, rather than services like IaaS which are harder to differentiate. It shares this strategy with another Chinese cloud giant, Tencent, which has chosen to focus on SaaS and PaaS rather than servers for rent.

On the earnings call, executives predicted further growth by providing additional AI services to enterprise and government customers with Baidu’s own “ACE Transportation Engine” – a mobility-as-a-service package for municipal buyers – is already doing well and should grow even faster. Baidu also hopes to use AI to generate content that will appear in its flagship app and help generate more e-commerce revenue.

No mention was made of rival Chinese clouds’ overseas expansion plans. Baidu AI has only two locations outside China – in Hong Kong and Singapore – while Alibaba and Tencent seek customers in Asia and Europe. ®