Robotaxis are invading Chinese roads. Here’s how they compare to the old-school version.


beijing — So-called robotaxis are popping up everywhere China. Tech giant Baidu, best known for its search engine and sometimes referred to as China’s Google, is among the companies testing the autonomous taxi service.

A view from the back seat as a Baidu robotaxi transports passengers in Beijing, China.

CBS News

Baidu is currently testing its self-driving taxis in 10 cities across the country and has just won permission to deploy fully driverless vehicles in the major cities of Wuhan and Chongqing.

In the capital, Beijing, where the company is based, a human is still required by law to sit in the front passenger seat – but they don’t have much to do.

With sensors, radars and cameras mounted throughout the car, a computer is entirely in charge of navigation. Advances in technology mean the latest models only cost around $37,000, about half the price of the previous generation. Lower prices pave the way for mass production.

The Baidu service itself offers a similar experience to ride-sharing apps like Uber. You download an app to your smartphone, pinpoint your location and destination, and a car appears. The difference at this point is that Baidu customers have to choose from a list of existing stops, much like bus stops, instead of just picking any specific location they want to reach.

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CBS News tried the Baidu service in Beijing and then, for comparison, took the same trip in a traditional taxi with a driver.

The Baidu trip itself was smooth, but slightly slower than the old fashioned way.

A screen in the rear seats provides a visual representation of how the robotaxi’s software scans and monitors the space around the vehicle to locate other cars, humans, bikes and anything else that might get in the way.

Other customers expressed generally positive opinions of the service to CBS News, calling it convenient and user-friendly, although they said more available “stops” should be added to routes. None of them expressed concerns about safety.

Baidu says one million trips have already been made since the service was rolled out five years ago, and it plans to expand to dozens more Chinese cities by 2030.

A Boston Consulting Group report on robotaxi services in general said our societies would benefit, with less congestion and more livable cities thanks to the vehicles themselves, at least, running on electricity rather than fuels. fossils, which would reduce urban consumption air pollution.

Self-driving taxis will not be solitary robots on Chinese roads. Much like in the United States, food delivery services are already testing smaller, self-driving vehicles in China that could soon deliver everything from coffee to pizza to people.


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