Posted26 November 2021, 15:26
The Chinese capital has just authorized the commercial use of the first autonomous taxis, named “Apollo Go”.
They look like normal cars, stop at the curb to pick up passengers but have no driver: Beijing has just authorized the commercial use of the first autonomous taxis. Equipped with sensors on the roof, these SUVs can only carry two passengers at a time and a human is always seated in the front… ready to take the wheel in case of the unexpected.
This fleet of 67 white taxis is currently only in service in Yizhuang, in the southern suburbs of the Chinese capital, about ten kilometers from the city center. And it will undoubtedly be still years before cars can circulate without any human intervention, the complete autonomy coming up against considerable technical and legal obstacles. But the green light granted Thursday to Chinese internet giant Baidu and the start-up Pony.ai, which has the manufacturer Toyota as a shareholder, is in itself a significant step forward.
Booking using a smartphone
Using an app, passengers indicate the route they want to take. They are then recovered by a vehicle loaded with electronics and surmounted by a spinning radar. In the sometimes anarchic environment of the streets of the capital, the vehicle accelerates, brakes and takes turns with confidence. Passengers using these cars named “Apollo Go” can be collected and transported from or to 600 fixed points. The cost of a six-kilometer ride during the current trial period is around 2 yuan (less than 30 euro cents), compared to around 38 yuan for a regular taxi.
National manufacturers and digital giants are competing to take advantage of this outlet. Besides Baidu, AutoX, backed by Chinese e-commerce champion Alibaba, and Didi (Uber’s equivalent in China) are also testing robotaxis in several cities in China.