Chinese search engine giant Baidu on Sunday started offering the first rides to commercial customers in its self-driving taxis.
Known as Apollo Go, the service has been open to the public on a trial basis since last October but Sunday marked the first time that riders have needed to pay for it.
Currently, the paid service is limited to roads in Beijing's Shougang Park, one of the venues for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Apollo Go users are able to use the service to reach various sport halls, as well as business districts, coffee shops and hotels.
Baidu's Apollo Go driverless taxi service
Hailing a ride is done via an app. Once the vehicle arrives, checks are done to identify the rider and ensure he or she is wearing a safety belt before the journey begins. At present, a safety driver still rides in the front passenger seat for monitoring purposes. Eventually the safety driver will be removed but the vehicles will still be connected via 5G to a central hub should the need to remotely control the vehicle occur.
The plan is to expand the service to more parts of Beijing and eventually more Chinese cities. Baidu has completed more than six million miles of testing and has public trials also up and running in the Yizhuang, Haidian and Shunyi areas of Beijing.
Waymo, the self-driving taxi service of Baidu-rival Alphabet, has been offering its Waymo One commercial service in parts of Phoenix, Arizona, since last December. Unlike Apollo Go, Waymo One is already operating without a safety driver on board.