has announced that they have received licenses to operate a paid Robotaxi service in China, without a human safety driver in the vehicle. Previously, they worked with human operators either behind the wheel or in the passenger seat. Baidu says it will immediately start operations in Chongqing and Wuhan, two major cities in central China. They have operated in the past, with the operator of the passenger seats in some cases, in several cities in eastern China. Service will only be from 9 to about 5, in a 13 square kilometer area of Wuhan and a 30 square kilometer area in Chongqing’s Yongchuan district. The Wuhan area is a special area with 321 kilometers of approved roads, of which 106 kilometers have special 5G that enables low-latency remote monitoring and even enables remote driving of vehicles.
What is remarkable about it is the removal of man from the car. For the outside public, it is very difficult to gauge the level of progress of a robocar team. Everyone posts really cool videos of their cars driving and solving various problems. The problem is that you can create such a video at almost any level of progress if you choose what you show. Therefore, we must measure teams based on the risks they are willing to take and how many people they will allow to see all aspects of the operation.
The decision to go unmanned in the vehicle meant a big presentation was made by the team to the board where they showed the vehicle was good enough to be released this way, with members of the public and no one to grab the wheel or hit emergency. stop if problem occurs. This tells us that the team made a convincing case and the quality is good — or maybe the team is being reckless, which we’ll find out soon enough. Baidu claims 32 million km of operations to date. Baidu states that while there is remote monitoring, they have about 2-3 vehicles per remote monitor, so it’s not a 1:1 ratio.
Vehicles must pick up/drop off at designated stops, not wherever there is free pavement like human drivers do. “PuDo” is its own problem that not all teams have solved yet. (Cruz got in trouble for just PuDoing on the street without pulling over, although at night that’s common for taxis.)
The other measure of the team’s own self-assessment of how far is whether they will allow the public to see random walks. Again, it’s not that difficult to take an invited member of the press with you on a pre-planned and well-rehearsed route. By allowing members of the public to drive anywhere, anytime, you show that you are confident that this will work. Some teams require riders to sign NDAs and not make videos. The more confident groups allowed anyone to post these videos. Again, this says that the company’s own testing has told them their vehicle won’t put them in a difficult position in the videos. Baidu says that riders can take and post videos of their rides, so it will be interesting to see.
It is not enough, of course, to allow this. Tesla
it’s really more open than anything and has allowed over 100,000 of their customers to try out their original driving system, including myself. It does not allow unattended operation of course. After allowing this, Tesla revealed that their system is extremely low quality and badly needs this oversight, so it doesn’t get high marks for quality, but it does get high marks for letting us see the quality. Those who don’t let us see the quality can be considered even worse than Tesla.
To a small extent, this also means that they have convinced the regulators about it, but the truth is that the regulators are not really capable of assessing the quality of a bot. Even teams figure out exactly how to do this, but they’re the only ones with much of an idea. What they dare to do shows what their own ratings said.
In the US, Waymo has been using driverless vehicles in Arizona for several years. More recently, Cruise launched such operations at night in a limited area of downtown SF, and Waymo also began operating around the clock there, but has not fully launched unmanned service.
The ability to charge money is not a major step, although it has often been highly advertised. No one is trying to run these services as a business yet. Charging money allows them to see how the public reacts to the service when they have to pay for it and to experiment with other types of charging. For now, most services just charge similar to or slightly less than Uber
. A robotaxi service ultimately needs to be a bit less than Uber, and probably with a completely different pricing structure that isn’t just a price per mile. Baidu Apollo taxi service is 16 yuan plus 2.8 yuan/km, comparable to human-driven services in some areas of China.