China’s Baidu unveils ‘robotaxi’ with detachable steering wheel | Science and tech news

Chinese search engine giant and artificial intelligence company Baidu has unveiled its new autonomous vehicle with a detachable steering wheel – with plans to use it in its robotaxi service next year.

The Apollo RT6 will hit the road without a steering wheel once Chinese authorities approve it, Baidu senior vice president Li Zhenyu said at a conference.

He added that the driving ability of the autonomous vehicle can match a skilled human driver with more than 20 years of experience.

The all-electric vehicle costs 250,000 yuan (£31,000) per unit, compared to 480,000 yuan (£59,000) for the previous generation.

“This massive cost savings allows us to deploy tens of thousands of autonomous vehicles (AVs) across China,” said Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, at the Baidu World 2022 technology conference.

“We are moving into a future where taking a robotic taxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today.”

The new vehicle will have autonomous “level 4 capabilities” that require no human intervention, with 8 lidars and 12 cameras located next to the car.

Lidars are detection systems, similar to radars, that use pulsed laser light instead of radio waves.

The company has not disclosed the manufacturer of the new model.

Baidu already runs Apollo Go, an autonomous taxi service that uses self-driving robotic axes with security personnel in the driver’s or passenger’s seat.

The service has completed more than a million trips across 10 Chinese cities since its launch in 2020.

Baidu said in April it had obtained permits to deploy robotaxis without people at the wheel on Beijing’s public roads.

China aims to be a global leader in autonomous driving technology, but lags behind the US in introducing such services.

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Alphabet’s Waymo began offering driverless taxi services in Phoenix, Arizona in 2020.

The company has said it plans to roll out its fully autonomous vehicles in the US in the coming years.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at an April conference with investors that the company aims to begin mass-producing its robotic axis without steering wheel or pedals by 2024, and predicted that a ride on a robotic axle will cost less than a bus ticket.

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