Baidu, the Chinese version of Google, just took another big step in autonomous driving. While the company launched its self-driving robotaxi service in 2020 and started offering driverless rides in 2022, now the service is available to operate at night.
Similar to Google’s Waymo or GM’s Cruise platform, Baidu has a fleet of driverless taxi cabs available throughout several regions in China. In August of 2022, these vehicles finally started offering rides to paying customers without a safety driver in the car at all, which means fully autonomous taxi rides.
Until now, Baidu’s vehicles could only operate between 9 AM to 5 PM and in select locations. Starting this week, those in Wuhan, China, can hail a driverless taxi anytime between 7 AM and 11 PM.
In Q3, the company announced it had serviced over 1.4 million customers, which is likely to expand now that the taxi fleet can hit the streets at night. Using the app Apollo Go, the public can call on a taxi and take a quick ride throughout the city.
Baidu’s driverless taxi system still has to stop at 11 PM, but this is an important first step as the vehicles can finally operate in less than ideal operating conditions, like dark streets at night. Baidu taxis use a combination of cameras, radar, and lidar sensors to help their cars navigate the streets, and now it looks like it’s ready for more advanced situations.
Considering Wuhan is home to more than 11 million people, the expansion could greatly increase Baidu’s self-driving taxi service usage. In comparison, GM’s Cruise robotaxi operating in California can only drive on select streets between 10 PM and 6 AM and under 30 MPH. A stark difference from what we see in China.