June 6, 2023

SINGAPORE – China takes notable regulatory strides in driverless taxis, two cities give Baidu company

Baidu -1.61%

Approve ride-hailing services to operate without a driver or person overseeing vehicle safety.

The Chinese search engine giant, which already operates self-driving taxis, plans to add five more driverless cars in each of the cities of Wuhan and Chongqing. The company said the vehicles will be driving in designated areas of these cities during the day, when there are often more vehicles on the road. The approvals also allow Baidu to charge users for rides, it said.

In an effort to catch up with the U.S. in autonomous driving, China has become increasingly aggressive in developing regulations that allow autonomous vehicles to travel on public roads. Establishing such a regulatory framework helps clarify the rules and responsibilities that open the way for businesses to operate.

This month, the southern metropolis of Shenzhen began implementing new rules that limit driverless cars to designated areas and that service operators of driverless cars will be held liable in the event of a traffic accident.

Wei Dong, vice president of Baidu’s intelligent driving business unit, said the issuance of the license to Baidu underscores that Chinese regulators have set ground rules to govern the new business area. Since authorities began approving such tests in 2020, more than a dozen cities in China have established pilot areas to test driverless cars on public roads.

In the U.S., GM’s Cruise LLC received a permit in June to charge for fully driverless rides at night in San Francisco, while Alphabet’s Waymo LLC company

The unit, which began operating cars without any human controls earlier this year, is also in San Francisco. Waymo’s rides are free and open only to its employees.

In Wuhan, central China, Baidu will operate its service in a designated area of ​​about 5 square miles, and in the southwestern city of Chongqing, it will operate in an area of ​​about 12 square miles, the company said.

Driverless taxis have been approved to operate in parts of Beijing, but require a security officer to sit next to the driver’s seat.Last month, Baidu and Toyota-backed rival Pony.ai company

where a commercial license for such services is obtained.

Beijing-based Baidu plans to double the size of its self-driving taxi fleet in China to more than 600 vehicles in the October-December quarter, Wei said. For every two self-driving taxis in service, Baidu has a staff member monitoring the vehicles remotely, he said.

Jin Jianbing, a Beijing-based e-commerce worker who has been in Baidu’s self-driving taxi, said he would be happy to try the new service, but would not use it with his family right away. He said he believed in the safety of self-driving cars, but added: “I would be conservative with the elderly and children.”

write to Rafael Huang raffaele.huang@wsj.com

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