Baba Stock – Baidu Gets Green Light for Commercial Self-Driving Bus Service in China
It’s one small step for the unmanned, one giant leap for China’s commuters.
autonomous-driving arm—aptly named Apollo—said on Monday it was granted rights to roll out a commercial self-driving bus program in the west of China.
The launch in the metropolis of Chongqing—with a population of more than 30 million people, greater than the entire country of Australia—will be China’s first self-driving bus operation, Baidu said.
Baidu has previously passed a restricted non-commercial pilot project in the area. The commercial service will be on a limited route in a specific area—10 kilometers (6.2 miles) that pass two scenic lakes, two universities, and an urban park, among other stops. Travelers are required to book trips via one of Baidu’s multiple transportation apps.
Baidu’s Nasdaq-listed shares (ticker: (BA)IDU) have been on a two-month retreat, mirroring many of China’s tech firms, following concerns about increased oversight from China’s authorities and delisting threats by U.S. regulators. The stock gained 1.1% on Tuesday and has declined 0.1% so far this year.
“The cooperation between Chongqing and Baidu Apollo has been greatly upgraded,” Baidu said in a statement. “The two parties have reached a strategic cooperation that will help the city become a benchmark for the national smart transportation industry in the future.”
That cooperation includes future expansion with other vehicle types, a battery charging infrastructure, and the two sides furthering “vehicle-road collaboration,” according to the statement.
While Baidu is the first to see commercial realization of an autonomous bus project,
-backed WeRide in January launched a fleet of robobuses in a confined government industrial complex in the southern city of Guangzhou.
On Monday, the California Department of Motor Vehicles authorized WeRide to test driverless vehicles on public roads in San Jose. California’s DMV rules for the driverless permit involve strict requirements, including $5 million in insurance, ongoing contact with local governments and law enforcement, and previous testing “under controlled conditions that simulate the planned area of operation,” the DMV said on its website.
Last year, Baidu launched robotaxi services in Beijing, the central Chinese city of Changsha, and in Cangzhou, a city in Hebei province, which encircles Beijing. Those projects are free for riders, but require registering through a Baidu app, and the vehicles contain a stand-by driver in case of malfunctions.
Baidu is not merely focused on engineering self-driving vehicles. Its DuerOS Internet-of-Things software has pushed ahead to become China’s leading platform for in-ride advertising and entertainment for passengers in its suite of autonomous vehicles.
Autonomous driving in China got off to an ambitious start in recent years, with Beijing announcing that more than half of new cars sold in 2020 would have self-driving capabilities. However, technical difficulties, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, caused officials to delay that date to 2025, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a 2020 release.
The crowded global field of autonomous vehicles has seen similar setbacks. Singapore’s Grab Holdings—which said it plans to go public in New York this week via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, with an expected valuation near $40 billion—began trials at home as early as 2016, though subsequent advances have been slow.
(UBER) late last year sold its self-driving unit to San Francisco startup Aurora Innovations after a series of troubles. Waymo, a subsidiary of Google-owned
(GOOGL), sued Uber for stealing trade secret violations, which resulted in Uber settling and its star engineer sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Waymo went on to launch a small fleet of self-driving ride-hailing vehicles in select areas around Phoenix, Arizona. But following slow developments beyond that, Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced his resignation earlier this month. “It’s a long road getting this technology out to the world,” he told The Wall Street Journal last year.
Uber’s legal tussle followed a deadly incident in 2018, in which a self-driving Uber struck and killed a woman in Arizona, with authorities placing the blame among the company, the in-car safety technician, the woman herself, and the state’s Department of Transportation. Uber was cleared of criminal wrongdoing but later settled a lawsuit with the victim’s family.
Other players at the forefront of autonomous driving include
’ (GM) subsidiary Cruise,
(AMZN)-owned Zoox, China’s
Alibaba Group Holding
((BA)(BA))-backed AutoX, and NYSE-listed
Tanner Brown covers China for Barron’s and MarketWatch.