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Autonomous “Robotaxis” Debut On China Streets

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Vehicles can only carry two passengers at a time.

Beijing:

It looks like a normal car, but the white curbside cab has no one to drive it and communicates with customers digitally to get directions and take payment.

Beijing this week approved its first autonomous taxis for commercial use, bringing dozens of so-called “robotaxis” to the streets of the Chinese capital.

The vehicles can only carry two passengers at a time and are confined to the south of Yizhuang City.

An employee of the taxi company is also seated in the front of the car in case a sudden intervention is required, but the vehicle drives by itself.

The deployment is a significant step forward for the driverless ambitions of Chinese tech giant Baidu and start-up Pony.ai, which were given the green light to deploy the cars on Thursday.

But it should be years before taxis fully function without human intervention, due to regulations and safety requirements.

The developers hope that Chinese consumers, who have embraced e-commerce, online payments and other digital solutions, will quickly get used to the feeling of traveling in a car without a driver.

Pony.ai co-founder Peng Jun said the key to moving the industry forward is “politics, technology and public acceptance.”

More than 500,000 trips have already been made to Pony.ai’s robotic axis during the early stages of testing, the Toyota-backed start-up said.

Passengers using Baidu’s “Apollo Go” cars must download an app called “Luobo kuaipao” – which means “radish race” – and can hail a taxi at any of the 600 pickup and drop-off points.

Sixty-seven Baidu taxis operate on Beijing’s roads, charging just over two yuan ($ 0.30) for a trip of 5.9 kilometers (3.66 miles).

AutoX, the Alibaba-backed start-up, and ride-sharing giant DiDi Chuxing have also run robotaxi pilot projects in cities across the country.

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by DAILYNEWSCATCH staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)

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