Robotaxis freed to charge across 60km2 of Beijing

Poll Sixty square kilometres in Beijing's Economic and Technological Development Zone have been approved for commercial operation of Chinese web giant Baidu's autonomous taxi service.

The service, called Apollo Go, will have over 600 pick-up and drop-off points in both commercial and residential areas and will run from 07:00 to 22:00 every day.

"With the service's first-ever commercial deployment on open roads, Apollo Go marks a further step in its accelerating progress towards large-scale commercial operation," said Baidu in a canned statement.

Users can locate the 67 robotaxis in the fleet with an app that helps them hail a ride, and pay for it.

Up until now, the service has been in testing mode and rides have been free. As of September 2021, the Apollo L4 vehicle racked up over 10 million test miles (16 million kilometres).

With Beijing's approval to charge for rides, Baidu wants to expand across to 65 cities by 2025 and has ambitions of hitting 100 cities by 2030. The company plans to build 1,000 of the vehicles for deployment over the next three years.

Pricing has not been revealed, although Baidu did say it could be comparable to existing premium ride-hailing services.

Alphabet's Waymo, which had a self-driving car go disruptively rogue earlier this year, had been testing its robotaxis in California and Arizona, and even charging for rides in Phoenix.

Intel's self-driving car subsidiary Mobileye announced a partnership with car rental giant Sixt to launch fully autonomous robotaxis in Munich last September. Intel and Sixt plan to make a bajillion dollars from their driverless product once regulatory approvals are secured.

Are you ready to ride a robotaxi? Or would you rather the chance to keep meeting charming human drivers and observe their unique interpretations of safe driving? Let us know in the poll below, or leave us a comment. ®

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