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Baidu expanding robotaxi service to Beijing

The Chinese company says it wants to create the world's largest fully driverless ride-hailing area by 2023.

Baidu, China's answer to Google, has announced it had received the license to test completely autonomous vehicles with no driver or safety operator on board in the country's capital Beijing.

Baidu will initially deploy a fleet of 10 robotaxis that will operate in a 20 square km area in the Beijing Yizhuang Economic Development zone. Test drives are meant to cover "a series of complex urban road scenarios," the company said.

Previously, Baidu had a permit to run an autonomous taxi service in Beijing, but it still required a human operator in one of the vehicle's front seats. It was also not a commercial service, ferrying passengers for free as part of the research and development process.

It said it was expanding to Beijing after the "stunning growth" in Wuhan, where it launched its paid fully driverless robotaxi service, called Apollo Go, last summer. It also operates a robotaxi fleet in Chongqing.

Baidu said Apollo Go delivered a total of 1.4 million driverless rides by the end of the third quarter and covered an area of over 100 square km across China. It also said it would add 200 more driverless vehicles to its fleet in 2023 to build the world's largest driverless ride-hailing area.

In China, it competes with WeRide, which operates in Guangzhou, and Pony.ai, which has also won a permit to test drive its robotaxis in Beijing. A Toyota-backed startup, Pony.ai, is also active in Guangzhou, as well as California and Arizona in the US.

Globally, Baidu competes with California-based Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, and General Motors' Cruise, which has recently announced plans to expand its robotaxi service to Austin and Phoenix.

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