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China tech

Baidu's self-driving $5 taxis hit Beijing park in Olympic warm-up

China's first paid autonomous vehicles to set out on eight-stop route

The Apollo Go taxi service will link eight stops covering 2.7 sq. kilometers in the Beijing's Shougang Park. (Photo courtesy of Baidu)

BEIJING -- Baidu, the Chinese tech company known for its search engine, has passed its driver's test and will debut its fleet of autonomous taxis to the public this weekend in what will be China's first paid self-driving service with no one behind the wheel.

The robotaxis will be remotely monitored and support will be available in case of emergency. While there is no driver, the vehicles will be manned with a service member in the passenger seat. Passengers will verify their identification and health conditions on a smartphone app before getting in, which will not start moving until passengers fasten their seat belts.

The Apollo Go service will be available starting Sunday in Shougang Park on the outskirts of Beijing -- one of the venues of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

"Introducing unmanned services is an indispensable stage for the commercialization of autonomous driving," Wang Yunpeng, vice president and general manager of autonomous driving technology at Baidu, said in a statement. "The commercialization of autonomous driving can alleviate congestion effectively and help to reach the peak carbon dioxide emissions and achieve carbon neutrality in China."

The taxis will pick up and drop off passengers at eight stops, covering an area of 2.7 sq. kilometers, including a hotel, cafe and a parking lot. During the 2022 Games, the robotaxis will be available to provide shuttle services for athletes and staff, the company said.

The service will use a fleet of about 10 vehicles, which were developed based on the Hongqi passenger cars from state-owned automaker FAW with Baidu's involvement. To entice the public to use the 30 yuan ($4.60) service, 40 yuan worth of vouchers for facilities will be offered to passengers after their rides.

Launched in 2017, Baidu's Apollo open platform has led China's efforts to develop autonomous driving technologies with the government backing. Its network includes leading automakers from the U.S., Japan and Europe, as well as chipmaker NXP Semiconductors and others. The goal is to have 1 million vehicles equipped with Apollo technology in three to five years.

Baidu is also collaborating with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group on building and selling electric vehicles featuring autonomous driving technology. The duo is investing 50 billion yuan over five years, with plans to release the new vehicles within three years, according to Chinese media.

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