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Baidu wins China's first commercial license for self-driving buses

City of Wuhan also picks two other operators for network using Huawei 5G

A self-driving bus with Baidu's Apollo autonomous driving open platform is displayed at the 2018 Baidu World conference.   © Reuters

CHONGQING -- Chinese search engine giant Baidu is among three companies to win a license from the city of Wuhan to operate a commercial transportation service using self-driving vehicles, in a first for China.

Authorities hail the move as the start of the world's first 5G-based driverless commercial service.

Also awarded a license were Shanghai-based DeepBlue Technology, which operates self-driving buses on a trial basis in Tianjin and elsewhere, and Shenzhen Haylion Technologies, an autonomous-driving technology development unit of a state-owned bus company.

Licenses for self-driving transportation have been granted in China before, but only for trial services. The country is emerging as a hotbed of development for autonomous vehicles, which rely on vast amounts of data to learn the rules of the road. 

The three companies are allowed to provide transportation on a total of 28 km of public roads in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province in central China. They are expected to use primarily buses.

Suppliers of the necessary infrastructure such as fifth-generation wireless networks include state-run China Mobile and telecom equipment giant Huawei Technologies.

Wuhan's efforts in 5G autonomous-driving technology will serve as a model for other cities, a Huawei executive was quoted as saying in local reports.

A China Mobile official expressed confidence in the service, which uses China's BeiDou satellite positioning system.

"The combination of 5G and BeiDou will keep any delay to a matter of thousandths of a second, and allow for centimeter-level positioning accuracy," the official said.

Wuhan, home to state-owned Dongfeng Motor, looks to extend the public roads available for the new services to 159 km, covering 90 sq. km of area.

Baidu last year announced the commercial launch of what it called the world's first mass-produced self-driving bus.

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