Baidu Gets China’s First Permits for Driverless Robotaxis


China tech conglomerate Baidu said on Monday it has been awarded permits to operate driverless robotaxi services on open roads in two Chinese cities.

The permits – which do not require human safety drivers in the car – allow commercial robotaxis to offer rides to the public in specific parts of Chongqing and Wuhan.

The company said the licences, which took effect on Monday, marked a “turning point” in China’s policy-making towards autonomous driving.

“These permits have deep significance for the industry,” Wei Dong, chief safety operation officer of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, said in an interview. “If we think of the exploration of space, this moment is equal to landing on the moon.”

At first, Baidu will deploy a batch of five fee-charging robotaxis in each city, where they will be allowed to operate in designated areas from 9am to 5pm in Wuhan and 9:30am to 4:30pm in Chongqing, the company said in a statement.

The service areas span 30 square km (11.6 square miles) in Chongqing’s Yongchuan District and 13 sq km in the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone.


ALSO SEE: Sino-Russian Trade Boom Continues, China Exports up 22%


Robotaxis Start in Low-Traffic Areas

In April, Baidu‘s Apollo and Toyota Motor-backed said that they received permits in Beijing to deploy robotaxis without safety drivers in the driver’s seat on open roads within a 60 sq km area.

But the Beijing permits still require them to have a safety driver in the passenger seat. These services have started.

Baidu is also in talks with local governments in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, to secure licences within a year to test fully-driverless and unpaid robotaxis in those cities, according to Wei.

China should adopt autonomous vehicles in passenger transport with care, the country’s Ministry of Transportation said in drafted rules to regulate the self-driving industry.

The ministry will encourage the use of autonomous vehicles as taxis in easily controlled scenarios in low traffic situations, according to a draft seeking public advice published on Monday.

“The management of transportation with autonomous driving vehicles should stick to the principles with safety as the top priority,” the Ministry of Transportation said in the drafted rules.


US Regulators Also Pushing Ahead

China and the US are in a race to commercialise autonomous driving, from cutting-edge technologies in sensors and mapping to regulations balancing between development and safety.

US states like Arizona have been allowing self-driving trucking companies to operate without human drivers, while California gave approval in June for General Motor’s robotaxi unit Cruise to start charging passengers for its driverless rides.

In January, Cruise got a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission that allowed it to offer paid and fully driverless rides from 10pm to 6am in select streets in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Apollo Go – Baidu‘s robotaxi service – has operated over 1 million rides across 10 Chinese cities since its launch in 2020.

Baidu has not reported any problems with the service and has not given a breakdown for how much it has invested in the project.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard



Baidu Joins in Planned Beijing Robotaxi Surge

Geely Launches Satellites for Autonomous Vehicle Navigation

Waymo Kicks Off Fully Autonomous Rides – The Information

VW Seen In Talks With Huawei on Autonomous Driving Unit



Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.

Recent Posts

Tata Launches Budget $10k EV in Bid to Extend India Dominance

Tata leads India's EV market, helped by government subsidies and high tariffs on imports, but…

11 hours ago

Canberra Says Optus Should Pay for New Passports After Hack

Australian minister says Optus should replace passports for victims of a massive data breach, which…

12 hours ago

Investors Dump China Property Shares, Bonds as CIFI Defaults

CIFI's shares plunged over 32%. Investors were shaken by the sector crisis reaching CIFI, one…

15 hours ago

Meta Removes China Propaganda Aimed at US Midterms

Meta said it disrupted a China-based influence operation using Facebook and Instagram accounts with political…

15 hours ago

Asia Shares Slump as Fears of Global Recession Rise

Trading boards in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai were a sea of red again with…

16 hours ago

Toyota Teams up With BYD To Sell Electric Sedans in China

The bZ3 sedan will be the second model of Toyota's "Beyond Zero" collection," powered by…

16 hours ago