Baidu opens free robotaxis to the public in Changsha · TechNode

Baidu has officially expanded its autonomous early rider program to citizens in the central Chinese city of Changsha as rivals accelerate their plans to carry passengers for dominance in the self-driving arena.

Why it matters: Baidu is doing more road tests in a bid to win more favor from Chinese local governments. Beijing has called for local governments to spend more on upgrading their transportation infrastructures.

  • Baidu has secured several contracts for building data centers for vehicle communication networks from local governments this year.
  • An official from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) on Monday said “smart transportation” and “smart energy infrastructure” will be among the top priorities of the “new infrastructure” initiative to boost the economy.

Read more: China’s ‘new infrastructure’ projects, explained

Details: Citizens ranging from 18 to 65 can hail a self-driving Hongqi, a luxury sedan model from state-owned automaker FAW, with just “one-click” on Baidu’s navigation and search apps, according to our investigation.

  • Free of charge for passengers, the rides are currently restricted in a geo-fenced area with limited numbers of pick-up and drop-off locations. Residential blocks, shopping centers and office parks are covered in a downtown area of around 130 square kilometers.
  • China’s biggest search engine began piloting their robotaxi program with a fleet of 45 cars in late September in partnership with Changsha municipality.
  • A safety driver is required behind the wheel and testing during rush hours is not allowed.
  • The company has served around 700 riders with its fleet logging 150,000 kilometers (in Chinese) in the program.

Context: Baidu is not the first self-driving company allowing public to hail a robotaxi on Chinese public roads.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric vehicles. Connect with her via e-mail:
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