Chinese regulators granted two Chinese companies licenses to operate autonomous driving taxis in Beijing. Chinese internet search giant Baidu and tech company Pony AI were the first companies to be granted robotaxi licenses in mainland China.
With the licenses, the two companies can now charge passengers to ride their autonomous taxis within the city. The two companies had conducted extensive trials of their autonomous driving vehicles before they were granted authorization to operate them commercially.
The Beijing High-level Automated Driving Demonstration Area granted the licenses on Thursday. The licenses allow Pony AI and Baidu to operate their robotaxis within a 60-kilometer radius of the capital.
Baidu said the license should now allow it to rapidly expand its services. The company said its Apollo Go commercial service should now be able to meet the needs of commuters in Beijing while also becoming the foundation for the wider adoption of commercialized autonomous driving technologies throughout China.
Under the new license, the companies will still be required to hire a "security officer" to ride along the robotaxis. The vehicles will still operate fully autonomously when ferrying passengers from point to point, and the officer will only be aboard as a security precaution.
Baidu plans to run a fleet of 67 self-driving vehicles between over 600 pickup and drop-off stations in the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone. The service will be accessible from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and passengers will be able to hail a transport using the Apollo Go app.
Baidu began testing its self-driving taxis in China in September of last year. Meanwhile, Pony AI had started testing its robotaxis in May of this year.
Baidu created its Apollo program, the world's largest open-source autonomous driving platform, almost four years ago. The program is meant to allow dozens of carmakers, component suppliers, and technology companies to work on next-generation cars.
Unlike some other vocal proponents of autonomous driving, Baidu is shifting its focus away from vehicle-only solutions and toward smart infrastructure. Apollo Go has established a target of growing its operations into 65 Chinese cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030.
Analysts expect Shanghai to be the next major Chinese metropolitan area to allow robotaxis. The city is expected to grant operators licenses to operate within the next few years.
Both Baidu and Pony AI have yet to formally announce the fees they will be charging passengers. Analysts expect the rates to be competitive with fees charged by traditional taxis.