Chinese tech companies Apollo Go and Pony.ai, owned by Baidu, announced on Thursday that they received permission from Beijing city officials to remove a security driver for part of their robotic taxi business in a suburban area of the city.
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BEIJING. The capital of China has taken another step towards allowing ordinary people to use robot taxis without a driver.
For the first time in the country, two Chinese companies — Apollo Go and Baidu’s Pony.ai — announced on Thursday that they had received permission from Beijing city officials to remove a security driver for part of their robotic taxi business in the suburban area.
Cars will still be needed by an employee who will sit inside, but not necessarily in the driver’s seat.
This is a step towards allowing companies to run a robot taxi business without having to pay staff to maintain vehicles, which completely eliminates the cost of a taxi driver. It remains unclear when the Chinese government will allow robot taxis to charge for rides without human staff in the vehicles.
In the US, Alphabet’s Waymo and subsidiary GM Cruise can already operate public taxi robots without human personnel in the vehicles. Laws on robot taxi testing and driver charging vary by city and state.
Waymo may charge customers for its robot taxis that operate in Arizona, while Cruise awaits final approval to charge drivers in San Francisco.
Tu Le, founder of Beijing-based consulting firm Sino Auto Insights, noted that GM Cruise can only operate its self-driving robot taxi in San Francisco at night, while Beijing’s latest easing of restrictions allows the nearly self-driving robot taxi to operate during the day. .
This will allow Chinese operators to collect more data during periods of high traffic.
Under a new permit from the city of Beijing, Baidu said it can operate 10 robot taxis without safety drivers and plans to add 30 more such vehicles at an unspecified date.
Pony.ai is initially able to operate four robotic taxis without safety drivers under the new regulations and plans to add more in the future, a spokesperson said.
Beijing authorities in suburban Yizhuang confirmed that Baidu and Pony.ai received new robot taxi permits at a press conference on Thursday. The government added that the operational area has tripled to the equivalent of about 23 square miles.
Busy six months for China’s robot taxi rules have changed
The rules for testing and operating a robot taxi also differ depending on the region of China.
Beijing’s latest move comes less than six months after the municipality allowed Baidu and Pony.ai charge for robot taxis in the suburban area of Yizhuang. The tolling permit was the first major city approval in China.
Baidu said its Apollo Go robotic taxi business subsequently began charging fares in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality and the small central Chinese city of Yangquan in February. Cars still require a safe driver.
On Sunday, the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou gave the Pony.ai tech taxi robots the same designation as traditional taxis, the first such license in China. The license allows Pony.ai to collect tolls in the area. Nowadays cars have safe drivers.
— CNBC Michael Wayland contributed to this report.