Baidu launches paid Robotaxi service in China without any employees on board

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Baidu
BIDU
announced that it had received authorizations to operate a chargeable Robotaxi service in China, without a human safety driver on board the vehicle. Previously, they operated with human operators behind the wheel or in the passenger seat. Baidu says they will immediately start operations in Chongqing and Wuhan, two major cities in central China. They previously operated, with the passenger seat operator in some cases, in several cities in eastern China. The service will only be around 9 to 5, in a 13 km2 area of ​​Wuhan and a 30 km2 area in Yongchuan district of Chongqing. The Wuhan area is a special area with 321 km of approved roads, 106 km of which have special 5G that allows low-latency remote monitoring and even allows remote driving of vehicles.

What’s remarkable about this is the removal of the human from the car. For the outside audience, it is very difficult to measure the progress level of a robocar team. Everyone posts great videos of their cars being driven and solving various problems. The problem is, you can make a video like this at almost any level of progression, if you choose what you show. As such, we need to measure teams by the risks they are willing to take and the number of people they will allow to see all facets of the operation.

The decision to go without a human in the vehicle means there was a big presentation from the team to the board where they showed the vehicle was good enough to be released in this way, with members of the audience and no one to grab the steering wheel or strike in an emergency. stop if there is a problem. This tells us the team has presented a compelling case and the quality is good – or maybe the team is reckless, which we’ll find out soon enough. Baidu claims 32 million km of operations to date. Baidu states that although there is remote monitoring, they have around 2-3 vehicles per remote monitor, so it’s not a 1:1 ratio.

Vehicles must pick up/drop off at designated stops, rather than anywhere there is a free sidewalk as human drivers do. “PuDo” is its own problem that not all teams have solved yet. (Cruise got in trouble for just doing PuDo on the street without stopping, though at night this is common for taxis.)

The other measure of the team’s self-assessment of progress is whether it will allow the public to see random rides. Again, it’s not that difficult to take a guest member of the press on a pre-planned and well-tested route. If you allow members of the public to ride anywhere, anytime, you show that you are confident that it will work. Some teams require riders to sign NDAs, not make videos. More confident teams allowed anyone to post these videos. Again, this indicates that the company’s own tests told them that their vehicle wouldn’t get in the way of them in videos. Baidu says runners can make and post videos of their rides, so those will be interesting to see.

It is not enough to allow this of course. You’re here
TSLA
is actually the most open of them all and has had over 100,000 of their customers try out their prototype ride system, myself included. It does not allow unattended operation of course. Having allowed this, Tesla revealed that their system is very poor quality and badly needs this oversight, so it doesn’t get high marks for quality, but it gets high marks for letting us see the quality . Those who won’t let us see the quality can be presumed to be even worse than Tesla.

To a lesser extent, it also means that they have convinced the regulators of this, but the truth is that the regulators are not really able to assess the quality of a robocar. Even the teams figure out exactly how to do this, but only they have a lot of ideas. What they dare to do shows what their own assessments say.

In the United States, Waymo has been operating vehicles in Arizona without a supervising driver for several years now. More recently, Cruise began such operations at night in a limited area of ​​downtown SF, and Waymo also began round-the-clock operations there, but did not begin fully unmanned service.

The ability to charge money isn’t a big step, although it’s often been highly touted. No one is trying to run these services like a business yet. Charging money allows them to see how the public reacts to the service when they have to pay for it and to experiment with other types of charging. Right now, most services simply charge or slightly less than Uber
UBER
. A robotaxi service ultimately has to be a bit less than Uber, and probably done with an entirely different pricing structure that isn’t just price per mile. Baidu Apollo taxi service is 16 yuan plus 2.8 yuan/km, comparable to human-driven services in some parts of China.

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