A Baidu spokesperson confirmed on Monday with KrAsia that the company will kick off a pilot program for robotaxis this year. The autonomous rides will be tested in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province in central China. In all, 100 vehicles are expected to be part of the fleet of robotaxis by end of this year.
Robin Li, the founder and chairman of Baidu, is attending the second session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. On Sunday, when interviewed by reporters covering this important political meeting, Li said that Baidu will begin commercializing its autonomous vehicles in Changsha.
Baidu also has plans to roll out its Apolong autonomous, 14-seat minibus, which is powered by Baidu’s Apollo open source autonomous driving platform. SAE International, which defines the engineering standards for various industries, has indicated that Apololong buses allow “mind off” driving, meaning the vehicle’s self-driving is limited to geofenced areas or specific conditions like traffic jams.
The spokesperson who communicated with KrASIA indicated that the Apolong bus will mainly operate within enclosed parks or scenic routes, adding that the company aims to establish a demonstrative smart bus line to speed up the conversion of public transportation.
Last July, at Baidu’s AI developer conference, Li announced that the company will export ten Apolong minibuses to Japan in early 2019. The Baidu spokesperson told KrASIA that the deal is moving forward, but no details are available at the moment.
At home, the bus is already used in commercial operations in several cities, including Beijing, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Xiongan in Hebei, and Pingtan in Fujian.
Baidu is in the process of transforming its business. It is China’s largest search engine, and has ambitions of becoming a leader in artificial intelligence, first by perfecting its autonomous driving systems.