Baidu and Pony.ai have been given permission to operate their autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in Beijing, a first for robotaxi services in China (via CNBC). Although both companies now no longer need a staff member in the driver’s seat, they’ll still need a supervisor present somewhere in the vehicle.
Baidu and Pony.ai can’t operate throughout the entire city of Beijing just yet — they’re limited to a 60 square kilometer (23.1 square mile) area in Yizhuang, Beijing, the home of about 300,000 residents. While Baidu can deploy just 10 autonomous vehicles in the area, CNBC says Pony.ai can only operate four. Both companies have plans to expand the number of vehicles on the road (with Baidu shooting for 30), but it’s unclear how soon that will happen.
Beijing authorities started allowing Baidu and Pony.ai to charge for their robotaxi services in the Yizhuang area of Beijing last November, although the city initially required both services to have a safety driver behind the wheel. According to TechCrunch, riders can hail either robotaxi service through Baidu’s Apollo Go app from 10AM to 4PM, or with Pony.ai’s PonyPilot Plus app from 9AM to 5PM.
Last week, the Toyota-backed Pony.ai became the first autonomous car company to win a taxi license in China. It received permission to operate 100 vehicles in Nansha, Guangzhou, and says a safety driver will be on board for a short period of time. Pony.ai has been approved to test its autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in three California cities as well, but this permit was suspended after one of its cars collided with a center divider.
Baidu, the company behind the massive Chinese search engine of the same name, was also granted approval to test its vehicles without safety drivers in Sunnyvale, California. It joins a number of other autonomous vehicle companies, like Waymo and Cruise, that can operate fully driverless vehicles on the streets of California.