The Apollo Go robotaxi service was launched in Beijing this week, a year ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, by Chinese internet giant Baidu.
The taxis will first operate in Beijing’s Shougang Park before the games begin next year, but they are now the country’s first commercially using robotaxi service.
Riders can use the Apollo Go app to find a nearby taxi and have it automatically summoned to their location, but they must scan a QR code and a health code on the car to enter.
Once inside, they must press the “Start the Journey” button to begin the ride. That’s all there is to it. There is no internal backup driver, but there is a remote backup driver for emergencies.
“The introduction of unmanned services is a critical step in the commercialization of self-driving cars. Today, we are making fully driverless robotaxi services available to the public in Beijing, which we only accomplished after conducting countless scalable driverless tests in many cities over a long period, “Yunpeng Wang stated. He is Baidu’s vice president and general manager of autonomous driving technology.
The company will expand the Apollo Go robotaxi service in the run-up to the Winter Olympics. The taxis will transport visitors and athletes to and from the Olympics, held in Beijing for the second time in less than a decade.
“In the future, Baidu Apollo will launch driverless robotaxis in more cities, allowing the public to access a greener, lower-carbon, and more convenient travel services while continuing to improve the unmanned service process and user experience” added.
“The commercialization of autonomous driving can effectively alleviate congestion while also assisting China in reaching peak carbon dioxide emissions and achieving carbon neutrality.”
Baidu isn’t the only company using Level 4 robotaxis at the moment, as a few other developers have launched services in limited areas in recent months. All current robotaxis in operation remains in very geofenced areas and is likely to expand minimally in the coming years and months.
Even though Baidu’s robotaxis and others currently in development are paid services, they are not the same as a good service, which is still thought to be in the distant future among autonomous developers and ride-hailing apps alike. It’s one thing to run a robotaxis in a geofenced area and quite another to make money.
It’s worth noting that both Uber and Lyft have recently outsourced their independent research and development units to third parties, with Lyft doing so just last week to save money—in Lyft’s case, $100 million per year.
This should give you a good idea of when ride-hailing apps expect robotaxis to be operational on a large scale and when they expect them to be profitable. Which neither company has been able to do with human drivers after about a decade.
Baidu’s Level 4 autonomy example is likely to be an excellent preview of the scale we’re likely to see robotaxis achieve in the coming years.