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Self-Driving Taxis are Now a Reality in Beijing

Chinese companies Baidu and Pony.ai have received approval to allow their autonomous robot taxis to operate in Beijing without a driver.

Various forms of self-driving cars are being tested in different parts of the world, but now local authorities in Beijing are so confident in the technology that they are allowing the cars to drive through the streets without a human at the wheel. They do, however, require that a safety officer is onboard the vehicle to keep a constant eye on it.

Their current sensor installation solution can cover 360 degrees and has a detection range of 200 meters. When installing the different sensors and from different perspectives, 3 lidars are used, on top and on the sides. The lidar has a detection range of 100 meters. At the same time, the 360-degree field of view of the camera is covered by 4 wide-angle cameras. The wide-angle field of view extends the perception distance to a range of 200 meters by using a front-facing millimetre-wave radar and a telephoto camera. These sensor configurations can ensure that autonomous vehicles can drive autonomously in scenarios such as residential areas, commercial areas, and industrial zones.

Baidu and Pony.ai’s cars are also limited to certain parts of Beijing – not the entire city. They can only move around the Yizhuang area, which is said to be about 60 square kilometres and home to 300,000 residents.

Baidu has received approval for 10 self-driving cars in the area, while Pony.ai is allowed four. However, Baidu says it plans to expand operations to at least 30 cars.

Just last November, the two companies received permission from authorities to operate taxi services in the city. At the time, they were required to have a “driver” behind the wheel, although the driver should not be driving the car but should be ready to take control in case something unexpected happens.

The taxis are only available during the day – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Baidu and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for Pony.ai – and both are summoned through the company’s own apps.

Poly.ai is financially backed by Toyota, among others, and recently tried to expand testing to the US.

However, their license was revoked thereafter one of their cars collided in the middle of the road.

There are also several companies in the U.S. vying to be the first to deploy fully self-driving taxis. Waymo and Cruise, among others, are allowed to drive driverless cars on the streets of California, and Tesla is also testing self-driving functionality in its cars.

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