Chinese search giant and AI company Baidu has obtained permission from authorities to charge users for rides using its autonomous vehicles in Cangzhou, Hebei province, a development that marks another milestone in the company’s ongoing efforts to monetize its self-developed Apollo platform.
Biadu was given the green light to carry out commercialization tests with 35 cars in Cangzhou, which will allow the company to explore various mechanisms for charging customers including discounts, trial tickets, and voluntary payments from riders, the company said on Monday. The payment experiment is the first of its kind in China.
The tech firm also received an additional ten permits to trial fully driverless vehicles in Cangzhou, making it the first company to earn such permission in the city.
Baidu’s Apollo Go Robotaxi fleet has been in operation since August 2020 in downtown areas of Cangzhou, where commuters are able to hail a free robotaxi ride using their smartphone. Although fully autonomous, these vehicles carried employees in the driver’s seat as a safety precaution.
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To obtain the Cangzhou permits, Baidu was required to complete 50,000 kilometers of testing on open roads with zero accidents.
Baidu Apollo has previously received permission to test its driverless vehicles in Changsha and Beijing in late 2020. Elsewhere, the company has obtained approval in California to conduct driverless testing on roads.
Nasdaq-listed Baidu has been investing in smart transportation since 2013, and its self-developed Apollo autonomous driving technology is one of the world’s leading open platforms with more than 210 partners.
Its Apollo fleet size has grown to 500 vehicles, which have been implemented to conduct open road tests in nearly 30 cities around the world, accumulating more than 7 million kilometers of testing. Baidu said the Apollo Go Robotaxi service has so far driven more than 210,000 passengers and has announced intentions to expand the fleet to 30 cities over the next three years.
The Beijing-based company is also gearing up for a secondary listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange, and is planning to raise at least HK$28 billion ($3.6 billion) by selling 95 million shares.
Baidu will set the final price for its shares on Wednesday before it begins trading in the Hong Kong market on March 23.