Baidu and Pony.AI win China’s first driverless robotaxi licenses – TechCrunch

Chinese internet giant Baidu and self-driving vehicle company Pony.ai have been granted licenses to provide driverless carpooling services to the public on open roads in Beijing, according to the two companies.

So far, several cities in China have allowed autonomous vehicle companies to test autonomous vehicles without a human safety operator in the driver’s seat, but this is the first time companies have been able to run a fully autonomous service. That said, the license requires companies to have a security operator present in the front passenger seat, so the regulation isn’t as mature as, say, California’s driverless licenses that don’t require humans in the vehicle other than the passenger.

Neither Pony nor Baidu will charge a fee for driverless rides yet, although both companies are currently running commercial services with chauffeured robotaxis in Yizhuang, Beijing, also known as the Beijing High Level Automated Driving Demonstration Area (BJHAD) , according to a Baidu spokesperson. This 60 square kilometer stretch of Beijing, home to around 300,000 residents, is also where Baidu and Pony’s driverless service will work.

The news comes a few days after Pony obtained a taxi license to operate and charge for self-driving in Guangzhou, which requires a security operator to be in the driver’s seat.

China is home to many AV companies looking to commercialize, and it’s clear from the Baidu and Pony milestones that the country is pushing ahead with regulation to bring autonomous technology to market.

Licenses issued by the BJHAD headquarters allow Baidu to deploy 10 autonomous vehicles in Beijing, which will join Baidu’s existing Apollo Go fleet of about 100 cars in the capital from Thursday. The company said it plans to add 30 more driverless vehicles “at a later stage”.

Pony did not respond in time to requests for more information about when it intends to start its most advanced service, but a spokesperson told TechCrunch it would deploy four autonomous vehicles in Beijing.

Apollo Go users can hitchhike using the app from 10am to 4pm, and Pony customers can use the startup’s PonyPilot+ app to ride from 9am to 5pm There will be hundreds of pick-up and drop-off locations in the area including subway stations, parks, stadiums, central business districts and residential areas, according to Pony.

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