Pony.ai, Baidu approved for robotaxi services in Beijing

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Chinese self-driving startup Pony.ai and tech giant BaiduInc have won approval to launch paid driverless robotaxi services within an area in Beijing, China’s capital.

The regulatory approval to support robotaxis in China arrives as local governments in the U.S. have been progressing in a similar direction. However, Beijing city’s decision carries additional weightage. Approval from China’s capital marks the first time a large city has allowed companies to charge the public for robotaxi services.

Wei Dong, chief security operations officer and vice president at Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, said that the move also sets the stage for other cities like Shanghai, Shenzen, and Guangzhou to follow the decision.

Passengers who feel uneasy about letting an algorithm drive them safely from A to B need not fear: the robotaxis will have a human “security officer” behind the wheel, ready to intervene when required.

Baidu began running its driverless robotaxis on a trial basis in September last year. It will operate a fleet of 67 autonomous driving vehicles commuting between more than 600 pickup and drop-off points within the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone, part of the permitted area. The robotaxi service will be available from 7 am to 10 pm, and passengers can use the Apollo GO app to hail a ride.

Both the companies are yet to unveil the fees they will charge passengers. Analysts, though, are predicting the rate to be similar to that of traditional taxis.