BEIJING (AP) — China has granted Chinese internet services company Baidu and a rival self-driving car company, Pony.ai, licenses to provide driverless transportation services to the public in Beijing, a major regulatory step in the country’s pursuit of driverless technology.
Permits granted to Baidu and Pony.ai allow them to offer driverless safety driving rides to take over in an emergency. The new permits still require a safety supervisor to sit in the front passenger seat.
Baidu said 10 such self-driving cars began offering rides to passengers in a 60 square kilometer (23 square mile) area in suburban Beijing from Thursday.
Baidu already operates a self-driving fleet of taxis in Beijing as part of its Apollo Go transportation services, but they must have a safety driver behind the wheel.
China has ambitions to become the world leader in self-driving technology, but it lags behind the United States in introducing such services. Alphabet’s Waymo began offering driverless taxi services in Phoenix, Arizona in 2020.
In 2020, Beijing has set a target for 70% of cars sold in 2030 to have Level 2 and Level 3 autonomous driving technology. Level 2 is partial driving automation, which means that the vehicle can control direction and speed. Level 3 automation means the car can sense what’s going on around it and drive itself.
Baidu, best known for its search engine and online advertising services, has in recent years invested heavily in self-driving and artificial intelligence technology, including automated personal assistants and AI chips.
The company said in a statement that it had racked up more than 27 million kilometers (16 million miles) of test drives in the past nine years without a traffic accident.
Baidu’s Apollo Go self-driving taxi services operate in nine cities across China, including Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.