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Pony.ai and Baidu announced that they have been issued a fully driverless autonomous vehicle road test permit by the Beijing Intelligent Connected Vehicle Policy Pilot Zone.
With this new permit, Pony.ai will test ten driverless robotaxis in the pilot zone in Yizhuang, Beijing, over an area of 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles). The Pony.ai robotaxis will be tested in difficult traffic situations in cities. The autonomous vehicles will be tested without anyone in the vehicle; a safety officer will monitor the test vehicles remotely. As with the other regulatory approvals in Beijing over the past year, Pony.ai is one of only two AV companies to get approval in the first group.
In addition to receiving the driverless permit in Beijing, Pony.ai received a permit in April 2022 to begin testing fully driverless vehicles in Guangzhou, laying the groundwork for future driverless applications and commercial operations.
Over the past year, the Beijing Intelligent Connected Vehicle Policy Pilot Zone has announced a number of industry-leading autonomous driving policies in succession. In October 2021, the pilot zone opened up autonomous driving unmanned road tests for the first time and divided “autonomous” testing into three stages:
- Nobody behind the steering wheel but there is a safety operator in the passenger seat
- Nobody in the front row, but with a safety operator in the back row
- “Fully driverless” – this covers the permit for autonomous testing in Beijing
To enter this third stage, AV test vehicles need to have met strict technical and operational requirements such as test mileage and disengagement rate; Pony.ai’s ten test vehicles successfully passed the tests without any safety issues.
This authorization builds on other recent autonomous driving milestones for Pony.ai in Beijing. In November 2022, Pony.ai got approval to test with a safety operator in the back seat (stage two of the three stages). Pony.ai acquired permission to offer fare-charging robotaxi services in 2022. It became the first and only AV firm to acquire a taxi license in China in April 2022.
Pony.ai recently announced that it is collaborating with SAIC AI Lab, a division of SAIC Motor (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation), China’s largest auto manufacturer to jointly explore and advance driverless technology. Together with SAIC AI Lab, Pony.ai launched a concept vehicle based on the SAIC Marvel R model and will build out a fleet of autonomous vehicles equipped with Pony.ai’s L4-level driverless solutions, over time.
Baidu wants to become the largest robotaxi provider in the world
Baidu has been offering ride-hailing services with no human drivers since August 2022 in the cities of Chongqing and Wuhan, where they can operate over hundreds of square kilometers. Baidu will keep growing its operational area into 2023 as it plans to create the largest service area for fully driverless robotaxis in the world. The company is planning to add 200 vehicles to its fleet in 2023.
A total of 10 fully driverless test vehicles will travel across a 20 square kilometer area in Beijing Yizhuang Economic Development Zone, covering a series of complex urban road scenarios.
Baidu’s Apollo Go covers more than 10 Chinese cities, including all first-tier cities. Apollo Go conducted 474,000 rides in Q3 2022, up 311% year over year and 65% from the previous quarter. In first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, each Apollo Go robotaxi can give 15 rides a day on average. Apollo Go had given 1.4 million rides by Q3 2022. As Baidu expands robotaxi service, it is one step closer to providing autonomous driving services to more people and consolidating its leading position in the worldwide autonomous ride-hailing market.
Earlier this week, Baidu also announced a major expansion of its commercialized fully driverless robotaxi service in Wuhan, tripling the size of its operation area, increasing the number of robotaxis in service and expanding operating time to include key evening hours.
“Backed by its solid AI technology, Baidu Apollo has created a safe, intelligent and efficient autonomous driving technology system, bringing robotaxi services from designated zones to open roads at scale,” said Jingkai Chen, Baidu’s autonomous driving technology expert at the event. The generalization ability of Baidu’s autonomous driving technology has progressed at a more advanced pace than expected. Now, the lead time to deploy autonomous driving technology in a new city is only 20 days.