China's Baidu to launch paid driverless ride-hailing services in Beijing

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People walk near a Baidu logo at the company headquarters in Beijing, China April 23, 2021. REUTERS/Florence Lo

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BEIJING, April 29 (Reuters) - Baidu will launch paid driverless robotaxi services in Beijing from May 2, the Chinese tech giant said on Thursday, making it the among the first companies in the country to offer autonomous driving robotaxi services to paying users.

Baidu's driverless Apollo Robotaxi, to be launched in the Chinese capital's Shougang Park, will operate without a safety driver behind the steering wheel, the company said, adding that users can hail and pay for a robotaxi ride through the Apollo Go App.

The company has been testing autonomous driving on public roads since October in Beijing. Baidu has over the years developed smart car technologies, including high-definition maps, with the autonomous driving unit Apollo established in 2017.

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"Introducing unmanned services is an indispensable stage for the commercialization of autonomous driving," said Wang Yunpeng, general manager of autonomous driving technology at Baidu, adding that Apollo will launch driverless robotaxis in more Chinese cities in the future.

Jidu Auto, an electric vehicle venture between Baidu and Chinese automaker Geely, plans to spend 50 billion yuan ($7.7 billion) to make smart cars over the next five years, Reuters reported last week. read more

Alibaba-backed (9988.HK) AutoX said earlier this year it began offering paid driverless rides to public users in Shenzhen. Nissan-backed (7201.T) Chinese autonomous driving startup WeRide is also testing driverless vehicles in the country.

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Reporting by Yingzhi Yang, Yilei Sun and Tony Munroe; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta

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