Baidu and Pony.ai become the first robotaxi services to operate without safety drivers in Beijing


Baidu Y Pony.ai have received permission to operate their autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in Beijing, a first for robotaxi services in China (via CNBC). Although both companies now no longer need a staff member in the driver’s seat, they will still need a supervisor present somewhere in the vehicle.

Baidu and Pony.ai cannot operate in the entire city of Beijing yet; they are limited to an area of ​​60 square kilometers (23.1 square miles) in Yizhuang, Beijing, home to some 300,000 residents. While Baidu can only deploy 10 autonomous vehicles in the area, CNBC says that Pony.ai can only operate four. Both companies have plans to expand the number of vehicles on the road (with Baidu targeting 30), but it’s unclear how soon that will happen.

Beijing authorities began to allow Baidu and Pony.ai charged for their robotaxi services in Beijing’s Yizhuang area last November, though the city initially required both services to have a safety driver at the wheel. According TechCrunchpassengers can take the robotaxi service through Baidu’s Apollo Go app from 10 am to 4 pm, or through Pony.ai’s PonyPilot Plus app from 9 am to 5 pm

Last week, Toyota-backed Pony.ai became the first self-driving car company to obtain a taxi license in China. It has received permission to operate 100 vehicles in Nansha, Guangzhou, and says a security driver will be on board for a short period of time. Pony.ai has also been approved to test its self-driving safety vehicles in three California cities, but this permission was suspended after one of its cars collided with a center divider.

Baidu, the company behind the huge Chinese search engine of the same name, has also received approval to test its vehicles without security drivers in Sunnyvale, California. It joins other autonomous vehicle companies, such as Waymo and Cruise, that can operate fully autonomous vehicles on California streets.


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