Baidu driverless service

Baidu gets approval to launch driverless taxi service in Beijing

Image credit: reuters

Chinese tech giant Baidu has won a permit to operate a fully driverless ride-hailing service in Beijing.

The firm plans to deploy 10 fully autonomous vehicles in a technology park developed by the government, after it was granted a licence to commence a test service in December.

Baidu is often considering to be the Chinese equivalent of Google, offering online searches alongside a suite of other products and services.

The last five years has seen it increase its involvement in driverless technology as part of efforts to diversify its business model. This started in 2018 with the launch of a self-driving bus using its software.

The new Beijing service has received government approval to run in the Beijing suburb of Yizhuang, which is a corporate hub.

Public transport users will be able to book heavily subsidised rides through the company’s Apollo Go app.

Baidu driverless service

Image credit: reuters

“Baidu’s success in obtaining government permits to operate fully driverless services across multiple cities in China is rooted in the company’s decade-long technical exploration in autonomous driving,” the firm said.

Last August, Baidu was given the go-ahead to launch robotaxi services in the cities of Wuhan and Chongqing, marking the first time that fully driverless cars took to mainland Chinese roads.

The Chinese government has set a target for “intelligent connected vehicles” to represent 30 per cent of all new car sales in the country by 2025.

The firm also recently demonstrated a new chatbot named Ernie designed to rival the likes of ChatGPT. At an event it showed how it could generate a company newsletter, come up with a corporate slogan and solve a math riddle.

Baidu CEO Robin Li showed Ernie generating a conference poster and video based on a prompt, offering advice on the best location for the event among several Chinese cities, and reading material in a Sichuan dialect.

“Its extremely strong ability to comprehend and express language will allow any company to get closer to their customers,” Li said. “It’s an opportunity for every company and it will even have an impact on every single person.”

But the firm admitted that the demonstration was actually pre-recorded and while users would soon be able to trial the bot for themselves, they did not provide a timeline for a full rollout.

This admission was poorly received by investors, which saw shares in the firm fall by more than 10 per cent during the demonstration.

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