Baidu recently unveiled the RT6 Robotaxi, a fully electric minivan-style vehicle capable of Level 4 autonomous driving.
But what does the Baidu RT6 mean for driverless taxis? Well, it turns out a lot.
While Elon Musk has been promising a fleet of fully autonomous robots for years, Baidu, China’s Google, is racking up its own driverless miles. Over 20 million of them in fact.
The RT6 is the sixth generation of this technology, and Baidu has therefore invited us to be the first English media to approach it. Read on to learn more and watch the video below.
Baidu’s history with self-driving vehicles
Baidu may be most famous for dominating search engines in China, but they also have a long history with self-driving vehicles, around a decade in fact.
It’s actually a natural progression for them, because just like Google Maps in other countries, Baidu is the company that also maps all of China’s roads and provides that data to many of China’s electric vehicle start-ups today. today.
Armed with this knowledge, Baidu began investing in self-driving cars, starting with a simple ATV fitted with a few sensors. Over the years, this capability has grown on the roofs of existing Chinese cars equipped with an often comical array of technologies and sensors.
Over the past few years of this research, Baidu has gradually grown enough to win the right to operate driverless taxis in special areas of ten cities in China under their Apollo Go program.
The caveat of these cars was twofold. First, Baidu had to retrofit existing cars such as the Lincoln Continentals and more recently the Arcfox Alpha T.
Second, while the cars were driverless, a safety driver was present at all times in the passenger seat.
But this month, everything changed as Baidu became the only operator in China authorized to offer 100% driverless taxis in China. This means no drivers and no safety monitors. The first phase of this license is limited to the cities of Wuhan and Chongqing.
And the RT6 then?
The Baidu RT6 is the latest product of all this knowledge and is the company’s first robotaxi to be manufactured by Baidu itself.
Built on their new Xinghe platform, designed specifically for fully autonomous cars, the RT6 differs from previous iterations by integrating the technology into the car itself.
A full suite of 38 sensors and cameras, including 8 LiDar units and 12 high-definition cameras, help navigate the car safely in some of the toughest driving conditions you can imagine.
What does it take to manage all this information? Nothing less than 1200 TOPS (Tera Operations Per Second), the common metric for measuring the processing power of autonomous services.
For comparison, Tesla’s FSD service currently operates with only 144 TOPS.
All of this knowledge and processing power is said to give the RT6 the driving ability of a skilled driver with 20 years of experience.
More important than all of that, however, is the price. With the Baidu RT6 at just 250,000 RMB (about $36,000), the technology is more affordable than ever and almost half the price of the fifth generation.
So how is it?
As an early prototype, the RT6 in our exclusive viewing wasn’t yet ready for driving of any kind, autonomous or otherwise, but we could see how it might be specified in the future.
The launch model comes with just three seats and no steering wheel, which is a curious thing to see – a glimpse into the not too distant future.
In place of the driver’s seat was a cooler and a table, a representation of the flexibility offered by this new platform.
Baidu says the interior can be configured in a number of ways, including more seating, desktop computers for work, vending machines, or even game consoles. Imagine discovering Gran Turismo while your car without a steering wheel takes you to the airport!
The interior itself is cavernous, and the sliding rear doors help aid the cabin. In this configuration, passengers have over a meter of legroom with enough room to recline each seat.
Between the two rear seats is a console with a tablet-style screen in the middle for demonstration purposes.
The seats, which somewhat lack any kind of reinforcement, are white and gray leather with gray fabric, while Baidu opted for some pretty cool blue seat belts as a contrast.
Alcantara lines the roof of the RT6 and several triangular glass segments make up an elegant panoramic roof which, together with a large canopy, will give the cabin an airy feel on a sunny day.
You will also find integrated cameras for occupant safety. Oh and that missing steering wheel? It’s detachable, so you can take it or leave it.
On the outside, the RT6 adopts a minivan style body with rounded style front and rear lights and matrix style lights.
Black paint under the greenhouse gives the impression of larger windows, and blue accents add some highlights to the predominantly white body. The rear is also painted black.
Door handles sit flush with the bodywork and conventional mirrors give way to blade-shaped cameras, both of which help the RT6 weave through the air as efficiently as possible.
This work is facilitated by the integration of this comprehensive list of sensors, with three LiDAR units mounted above the windshield, two in the fenders in front of the front doors, one in the center of the front and rear bumpers and one in the above the back. the window.
The five-spoke alloys, with large triangular segments in brushed metal and black and blue contrasting segments, make quite an impression. They look really sharp and give the RT6 a Ferris wheel vibe.
It’s not small either, with a length of 4.76 meters and a wheelbase of 2.83 meters. There are no height or width measurements, but it is at least 1.8 meters tall.
What does RT6 mean for driverless taxis?
Baidu thinks a lot, the key point being the accessible price. With the technology now so affordable, Baidu predicts that robotaxis like this could halve the cost of taking a taxi in the future.
This will likely come at a cost for the taxi driver roles of course, but if you’ve ever experienced the occasional thrill of a Chinese taxi driver on a mission, you might think that’s not a bad thing!
Undoubtedly, the first use of fully driverless taxis in Wuhan and Chongqing, currently using the Arcfox platform and fifth-generation technology, will play an important role in building the confidence needed for driverless taxis to really take off. , but the RT6 is ready to take that. experience up a notch in 2023.
Could this finally be the car that will materialize this image of spacious, flexible and affordable driverless taxis? We’ll let you know in 2023 when we get the chance to ride one.