Tue. Sep 26th, 2023

Baidu’s Apollo Go robotaxi, on the suitable, operates within the Yizhuang suburban district of Beijing alongside Pony.ai’s model. The 2 automobiles are pictured right here in November 2021 shortly after Beijing allowed the businesses to cost fares.

Vcg | Visible China Group | Getty Photographs

BEIJING — China’s capital metropolis is taking swift steps to permit robotaxi companies to develop.

As of Tuesday, the suburban Beijing metropolis district of Yizhuang is formally letting native robotaxi operators — primarily Baidu and startup Pony.ai — cost fares for totally autonomous taxis, with no human workers inside.

That totally eliminates the price of a driver. Beforehand, business public-facing robotaxis had been required to have an worker to sit down inside with the passenger. Yizhuang district is about half an hour’s drive from downtown Beijing and is house to firms akin to JD.com.

Extra approvals for robotaxi operations within the metropolis are coming, mentioned Ning Zhang, vp at Pony.ai and head of its Beijing analysis and growth heart.

“We now have very excessive confidence … possibly solely in three years, our full driverless automobiles are going to be operating over the entire Beijing metropolis,” he mentioned in an interview with CNBC on Monday.

Citing conversations with Beijing’s mayor, Zhang mentioned that by the tip of the yr, the town goals to broaden robotaxi testing areas to Daxing Worldwide Airport and round one prepare station.

In July, Beijing Mayor Yin Yong met individually with Pony.ai, Alibaba and Xiaomi to encourage their work in related automobiles, synthetic intelligence and different superior tech. That is in response to a state media report republished by Pony.ai on its official WeChat account.

The town has additionally beforehand introduced normal plans to extend the testing space for robotaxis.

Lower than two years in the past, in November 2021, Beijing metropolis allowed the robotaxi operators to gather fares for public-facing rides, a primary step towards eliminating the price of the driving force. Individuals can e-book extremely sponsored robotaxi rides from Baidu and Pony.ai in Yizhuang district through the businesses’ apps.

Out of greater than 200 robotaxis that Pony.ai operates within the area, solely about ten are at present totally driverless, Zhang mentioned. He famous that Beijing metropolis considers seven elements in a phased strategy of permitting public robotaxi operation, together with which seat the protection driver is sitting in and whether or not the automotive is getting used for testing or for business operation.

After preliminary testing, Zhang expects totally driverless robotaxis might function round Daxing airport subsequent yr.

Beijing metropolis didn’t instantly reply to a CNBC request for remark. Baidu didn’t share what number of totally driverless robotaxis it might function as of the announcement.

Robotaxi security

Within the U.S., San Francisco has been one of many main cities testing robotaxis. In August, California state authorities mentioned Alphabet’s Waymo and Normal Motors’ Cruise might provide paid robotaxi providers in San Francisco and carry passengers all through the town, 24 hours a day.

Shortly after, the California Division of Motor Autos mentioned Cruise must cut back its robotaxi fleet by 50% in San Francisco. The corporate’s self-driving automobiles had been just lately concerned in a number of crashes.

Pony.ai’s Zhang claimed the startup has by no means had any totally driverless public-facing robotaxi accidents in China, and that it has the very best security document on this planet.

When requested in regards to the security document of different robotaxi operators in China, Zhang mentioned he couldn’t share particulars however mentioned rivals have had accidents.

When requested about its robotaxi security document in July, a consultant for Baidu referred CNBC to a report that didn’t present a lot readability on the problem.

Beijing Daxing Worldwide Airport lies south of downtown Beijing, designated by the yellow star, with the Yizhuang space close to the “G2” marker closest to downtown.

Google Maps

Constructing a security observe document that helps additional authorities permits for robotaxi operations depends closely on information.

Pony.ai’s Zhang mentioned the corporate cleans its information by eradicating delicate data akin to car license plate numbers and information associated to the identification of an individual — together with erasure of faces from movies.

He mentioned solely a restricted group of individuals have entry to delicate information and that China information stays in China, whereas any U.S. information stays within the U.S.

Pony.ai claims it has a valuation of $8.5 billion as of March 2022. Zhang mentioned the corporate goals to interrupt even by 2025.

Learn extra about electrical automobiles, batteries and chips from CNBC Professional

Chinese language tech big Baidu operates robotaxis, branded Apollo Go, in different cities in China and claims to have run greater than 3.3 million rides.

In June, the tech big mentioned it obtained approval to function robotaxis with out workers in a suburb of Shenzhen. That adopted related approval in August 2022 to take away human workers in some robotaxis in components of Wuhan and Chongqing.

Pony.ai additionally operates robotaxis in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai, Zhang mentioned.

— CNBC’s Kif Leswing and Lora Kolodny contributed to this story.

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