China’s Baidu Unveils Autonomous Taxi With No Steering Wheel

China’s search engine giant Baidu on Thursday unveiled its new autonomous vehicle (AV) with a detachable steering wheel.

The Chinese giant plans to put it to use for its robotaxi service in China next year, after it gains approval from local regulators.

The Chinese firm has long worked on developing its own hardware projects, and in 2017 Nvidia joined forces with Baidu to work on artificial intelligence (AI), spreading its use into cloud data centres and autonomous vehicles.

Baidu Apollo RT6 Taxi

Autonomous taxi

Baidu at the time revealed it would make use of Nvidia’s Drive PX 2 autonomous driving platform in its own Apollo self-driving car platform.

Nvidia also provided Baidu with its Tesla Volta V1000 and Tesla P4 graphics accelerators, which uses parallel processing to power deep learning algorithms.

Now Baidu has announced its next-generation autonomous vehicle, that is ready to provide driverless robotaxi service next year via Apollo Go, Baidu’s autonomous ride-hailing service.

Baidu said that its Apollo RT6 is an all-electric, production-ready model with a detachable steering wheel.

It is designed for complex urban environments and the arrival of Apollo RT6 will bring the world closer to a future of driverless shared mobility.

Cheaper cost

The firm said that cost per unit will drop to 250,000 yuan ($37,031.55) for the new model, compared with 480,000 yuan for the previous generation, Baidu said in a statement.

“This massive cost reduction will enable us to deploy tens of thousands of AVs across China,” said Baidu’s chief executive Robin Li at the Baidu World conference. “We are moving towards a future where taking a robotaxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today.”

It seems that the new vehicle will possess autonomous Level 4 capabilities that need no human intervention, with 38 sensors, including 8 lidars and 12 cameras to obtain highly accurate, long-range detection on all sides of the car.

Baidu Apollo RT6 Exterior

Baidu said that the “safety and reliability of Apollo RT6 are backed by a massive trove of real-world data, a total test mileage of over 32 million kilometers (~20 million miles) driven by Baidu’s AV to date.”

The firm said that the steering wheel-free design unleashes more space to craft unique interiors, allowing for the installation of extra seating, vending machines, desktops, or gaming consoles.

Baidu Apollo RT6 Interior

It is not clear at the time of writing who is manufacturing the vehicle.

Taxi competition

Tesla’s boss Elon Musk has previously said that the company aims to start mass production of its robotaxi without a steering wheel or pedals in 2024, and predicted that a robotaxi ride will cost less than a bus ticket.

Alphabet’s Waymo also unveiled a robotaxi without a steering wheel last year, saying it planned to roll out its “fully autonomous vehicles” in the US in the coming years.

However, many firms around the world are still waiting for regulatory approval to deploy such vehicles in the real world.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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