After Baidu starts robotaxi roadtest, rival WeRide, founded by former Baidu employees, catches up

The two firms are edging towards commercialization of self-driving .

Photo: Provided to company with the press release

Chinese autonomous driving startup WeRide formed a joint venture with Baiyun Taxi, which is the largest taxi company in South China under state-owned Guangzhou Public Transport, and state-owned SCI (Guangzhou) Group, a real estate developer, according to a WeRide press release.

The JV–called WeRide RoboTaxi–will operate in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, a key city in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. It aims to provide Mobility as a Service (MaaS) in China with WeRide’s “Level 4” autonomous driving technologies.

In a Level 4 self-driving car, the driver is not required to interfere with any driving operations, but the autonomous travel is available under specific conditions, such as designated self-driving zones.

“This is the first of its kind in tier one city in China after Baidu’s robotaxi was launched in Changsha. WeRide also becomes the first company to achieve a partnership with a traditional taxi company on robotaxi services,” said the company.

It didn’t reveal the ownership stakes each party holds in the joint venture.

WeRide claimed in the press release that it launched the first Level 4 autonomous driving taxi in China in November 2018, together with Baiyun Taxi and GAC. It added that it would deploy strategic partners’ vehicle models to WeRide RoboTaxi and more EV models will join the fleet in the future.

WeRide has begun recruiting individuals for test rides of its self-driving car in the city of Anqing, located in East China’s Anhui province, KrAsia reported in April.

WeRide was founded in Silicon Valley in 2017 by Wang Jin, who once led Baidu’s autonomous driving team. The company was originally called Jingchi, but was renamed last October after it closed its Series A financing round. In March 2018, Wang left the company after a trade secret dispute with his former employer. Now, WeRide is helmed by Tony Han, who was previously the chief scientist of Baidu’s autonomous driving research unit.

The two firms are edging towards commercialization of self-driving cars. A small batch of ten white robotaxis, jointly developed by Chinese tech giant Baidu and the country’s car maker Hongqi, will be examined at the autonomous driving testing zone under different road conditions, such as highways, urban areas, rural areas, and off-road trails in Changsha, capital of Central China’s Hunan province, KrAsia reported on Tuesday.