Baidu aims to have the world’s largest robotaxi service by 2023

After becoming the first company in China to be approved to operate a robotaxi service without the need for a safety driver in August, Baidu has now announced an ambitious plan to cover the service in a larger area than any competitor as early as 2023.

Baidu, often referred to as China’s Google, made the announcement Tuesday during a presentation on self-driving technologies the company is working on. The company did not give a specific size for the area to be covered, but previously said it would have 600 robotic taxis in operation by the end of 2022.

Baidu’s robotaxi service, known as Apollo Go, has been operational in parts of China since 2021 and has since completed 1.4 million trips. A third of these occurred in the third quarter of 2022 alone.

Apollo Go is currently operating in limited areas in 10 major Chinese cities, including Chongqing and Wuhan, where the robotic taxis operate without safety drivers. Baidu claims that they can add new cities to their service in just 20 days thanks to the automation of map creation.

According to Baidu, around 96% of card creation can now be automated thanks to AI. The maps are also generated using crowdsourced data from actual drivers, which is important for real-time updates.

“Baidu’s new-generation autonomous driving map is equipped with comprehensive functions such as automatic production, real-time fusion and knowledge expansion,” said Jizhou Huang, head of Baidu’s autonomous driving technology, in a statement.

In addition, Baidu said it is developing its self-driving system to handle scenarios it hasn’t encountered before, known in the industry as the “long-tail” problem. Baidu’s solution is an AI system that integrates a pre-trained visual language model with weak surveillance that works in combination with a separate AI system that can recognize thousands of objects. According to Baidu, the setup will allow a self-driving car to quickly recognize an object not normally seen on the road, such as a plastic bag or a stray animal.

In the US, Alphabet’s Waymo is the leader when it comes to operating a robotaxi service. Waymo’s service is limited to parts of Phoenix and San Francisco, and the company announced in October that its next location will be Los Angeles.

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