China technology company Baidu has commenced its first autonomous driving taxi service in Beijing. The service, called Apollo Go Robotaxi, officially began operations in the city Sunday.
Baidu will be offering consumers free self-driving taxi rides along dozens of pickup points within the Haidan District, Shunyi District, and the Beijing Economic Technological Development Area. The free rides will be available until Nov. 6.
Consumers won't need to set appointments to try out the service. They simply need to book rides using the company's Baidu Maps app and its proprietary Apollo Go App. Only riders between the ages of 18 and 60 are allowed to participate and each trip will only be limited to two passengers.
Under the current laws governing automated vehicles in Beijing, Baidu will be assigning safety officers aboard each robotic taxi to ensure its smooth operation. Until the laws are revised and regulators are assured of the vehicles' autonomy, all self-driving vehicles in the city will still be required to have an actual driver on board the driver's seat at all times during trips.
At the Baidu World 2020 event held last month, the company had unveiled a prototype of its latest self-driving vehicle jointly developed with FAW Group's Hongqi luxury car brand. Unlike its current robotic vehicles, the new model has been built to operate without a safety driver on board.
Beijing is the third big China city where Baidu has launched its Apollo Go Robotaxi service. The company first launched pilot programs of the service in the city of Changsha and Cangzhou. Trips within those cities were also limited to select areas as the company fine-tuned its operations.
During its Beijing launch, Baidu outlined some technological breakthroughs it had achieved to ensure the smooth and safe operations of its autonomous driving taxis. The company outlined the key features of its "experienced AI driver," called the Apollo autonomous driving system.
Baidu also unveiled its 5G Remote Driving Service, which allows human operators to take over control of the vehicle through the cloud in case of emergencies. Baidu pointed out that it had developed its vehicles from the ground up. Unlike modified vehicles, Baidu claims that its pre-installed and mass-produced robotic taxis are much safer.