Baidu announced on 8 August 2022 that it has secured the first permits in China to offer commercial fully driverless robotaxi services to the public on open roads.
Apollo Go, Baidu’s autonomous ride-hailing service, is now authorized to collect fares for robotaxi rides – completely without human drivers in the car – in Chongqing and Wuhan, two of China’s largest megacities.
Amid increasing regulatory approval of the expansion of autonomous vehicles (AVs), the permits reflect regulatory authorities’ strong recognition and trust in the strength of Baidu’s autonomous driving technology.
They also mark a key turning point for the future of mobility in China, leading to an eventual expansion of driverless ride-hailing services to paying users across the country.
The permits were granted to Baidu by government agencies in Wuhan and Chongqing’s Yongchuan District. Both cities have been pioneering new approaches to intelligent transportation in recent years, from developing infrastructure to updating new regulations for AVs.
Having received the permits, Baidu will begin to provide fully driverless robotaxi services in the designated areas in Wuhan from 9 am to 5 pm, and Chongqing from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, with five Apollo 5th gen robotaxis operating in each city.
The areas of service cover 13 square kilometers in the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone, and 30 square kilometers in Chongqing’s Yongchuan District.
First Driverless Permits in China for Autonomous Ride Hailing Services
Baidu received the first-ever permits in late April this year in China authorizing the company to provide driverless ride-hailing services to the public on open roads in Beijing.
This regulatory approval marks a significant milestone for the autonomous ride-hailing industry in China, indicating a regulatory openness to taking a further step toward a fully driverless mobility future.
With these permits issued by the head office of the Beijing High-level Automated Driving Demonstration Area (BJHAD), ten autonomous vehicles without drivers behind the steering wheel will offer rides to passengers in a designated area of 60 square kilometers in Beijing.
These licensed cars will join an existing fleet provided by Apollo Go, Baidu’s autonomous ride-hailing service, in the capital city of China. Starting April 28, 2022, users will be able to hail a driverless ride using the Apollo Go mobile app in daytime from 10:00 to 16:00.
Currently, Baidu has the largest autonomous driving fleet in China. In expanding its driverless vehicle services, Baidu has worked to meet the unique technical challenges of Beijing’s complex traffic environment. The company plans to add 30 more such vehicles at a later stage, expanding its fleet to provide more convenient driverless services to the public.
Baidu has a proven track record of over 27 million kilometers (16 million miles) of road testing accumulated in the past 9 years with zero traffic accidents, including mileage recorded by driverless test cars in multiple cities across China as well as in California.
In September 2020, Baidu became the first company in Beijing to offer autonomous ride-hailing services. Starting in November of last year, Baidu has been charging fees for the Apollo Go autonomous services offered to the public under granted commercial permits, though safety operators are required in the driver’s seat.
Apollo Go has expanded to 9 cities in China since its first launch in 2020, including all first-tier cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou), and five other cities (Chongqing, Changsha, Cangzhou, Yangquan and Wuzhen). There have been 213,000 orders on Apollo Go in Q4 2021, making it the global leader by order volume.
Baidu released intelligent vehicle solutions for automakers in China
Baidu showcases Fully Automated Driving and 5G Remote Driving Service
Baidu displayed Fully Automated Driving during Baidu World 2020 on 15 September 2020, the company’s annual technology conference that was held in cooperation with CCTV.
With Apollo’s new Fully Automated Driving capability, the AI system can independently drive without a safety driver inside the vehicle, a breakthrough that will accelerate the large-scale deployment of autonomous driving technology across China.
Zhenyu Li, Corporate Vice President of Baidu and General Manager of Intelligent Driving Group (IDG), demonstrated the technology in Beijing’s Shougang Park with CCTV anchor Xiaofeng Bao.
“The three core components of Apollo’s Fully Automated Driving technology are pre-installed and mass-produced vehicles, the ‘experienced AI driver’, and the 5G Remote Driving Service,” said Zhenyu Li during the demonstration.
With pre-installed and mass-produced vehicles as the foundation, the AI driving system is now capable of operating the vehicles independently, and the 5G Remote Driving Service allows remote human operators to intervene in case of emergencies.
Apollo’s leading technology in pre-installed and mass-produced vehicles is a key precondition for Fully Automated Driving.
In 2019, Baidu partnered with FAW Group and jointly developed Hongqi EV robotaxi, the first pre-installed and mass-produced robotaxi in China, which has since been deployed in unmanned driving tests in multiple cities including Beijing, Changsha, G
Compared with modified models, pre-installed and mass-produced vehicles better guarantee consistency and safety.
Apollo has also released its fifth-generation autonomous driving kit, and the first pre-installed and mass-produced vehicles that meet the requirements for fully automated operations will be launched soon.
With each new generation of Apollo vehicles, the cost will be halved while performance will increase by tenfold, said Zhenyu Li.
The “experienced AI driver” refers to the capacity of the AI system to control the vehicle independent of a human driver. Apollo has completed over six million kilometers of road testing with a record low of zero accidents.
Having carried over 100,000 passengers across 27 cities around the world, Apollo’s “experienced AI driver” is well-trained. It is capable of handling various technological challenges of unmanned driving and solving the overwhelming majority of possible issues on the road.
The 5G Remote Driving Service is an indispensable complement to the “experienced AI driver” and allows human operators to remotely access vehicles in the case of exceptional emergencies.
Powered by smart transportation systems, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technologies, and the high bandwidth and response speed of 5G networks, the 5G Remote Driving Service is engaged instantaneously to provide immediate assistance from remote human operators when the user or the system switches to parallel driving mode.
All remote human operators have completed over 1,000 hours of cloud-based driving training without any accidents, so they can ensure the safety of passengers and pedestrians under the non-autonomous driving mode.
As the “experienced AI driver” can handle most road conditions, extreme occasions that require human intervention are rare. Hence, one remote human operator will be able to manage multiple vehicles simultaneously, largely increasing efficiency compared to the traditional one operator per vehicle model.
With these advancements, unmanned driving will create a new ecosystem of shared transportation, and the autonomous driving industry will enter the stage of full commercialization in 2025, said Robin Li, Co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Baidu.
Apollo also announced new product and technological developments at the conference.
Vehicle manufacturer Weltmeister will launch a new model incorporating Apollo’s valet parking in 2021, which will be the first in China to be equipped with L4 autonomous valet parking technology.
It will be able to identify vacant parking slots in multistory parking garages and allow people to use the autonomous-parking and smart summons functions with one simple click.
In addition, DuerOS for Apollo with smart voice-interaction has been installed on over one million smart vehicles.
DuerOS for Apollo is partnering with over 60 major automotive brands and covers more than 500 vehicle models on the market.
According to IHS Markit’s latest “Report on Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) Development Trends in the Chinese Market”, DuerOS for Apollo is the world’s most installed system for CAV.
The Apollo smart transportation solution “ACE Transportation Engine” has been put in use in nearly 20 cities in China.
Robin Li estimates that by 2025 major Chinese cities will no longer need to limit vehicle purchases and usage, and by 2030 most traffic congestion issues can be solved by higher transportation efficiency.
Smart transportation infrastructure based on V2X technologies promises to improve traffic efficiency by 15% to 30% and boost the contribution to GDP by 2.4% to 4.8% in absolute value.
During the smart transportation sub-forum at Baidu World 2020, Baidu launched Apollo 6.0, the latest version of its open platform, adding multiple cloud services to make it more accessible for developers.
The Apollo open platform has now released 600,000 lines of open source code, gathering 45,000 developers and 210 ecosystem partners globally.
China’s automobile sales up 16% in July 2020; new energy vehicles up 19%
China says Biden comments likening leader Xi to a dictator ‘extremely absurd and irresponsible’
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s remarks calling Chinese leader Xi Jinping a “dictator” and China a country with “real economic difficulties” drew fast condemnation from China on Wednesday, cracking open a new rift just after the two countries agreed to tentative steps to stabilize the relationship.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning condemned Biden’s unusually pointed comments as “extremely absurd and irresponsible.”
The clash of words comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded a visit to Beijing on Monday that sought to break the ice in a relationship that has hit a historical low. While both sides saw those talks as productive, they did not result in any significant breakthroughs beyond an agreement to return to a broad agenda for cooperation and competition.
China’s quick response to Biden, a president known for seemingly off-script remarks that venture beyond his administration’s policies, raises questions whether his remarks would undo the limited progress that had been made in Blinken’s carefully engineered trip or whether the two sides would move on.
Biden’s characterization of China comes as the campaign for next year’s presidential election is already taking off, with Republicans accusing him of being weak on China.
Biden also was preparing to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington on Wednesday evening for a lavish state visit where a central theme will be a shared wariness of China.
Biden, at a fundraiser in California on Tuesday night, referred back to January and February’s two-week overflight of what the U.S. says was a Chinese spy balloon. The balloon’s surprise appearance over U.S. skies roiled relations and transfixed the American public.
Speaking to wealthy donors at the event for his 2024 reelection campaign, Biden depicted Xi as out-of-touch and embarrassed by the incident, which ended with the Air Force shooting down the balloon just off the East Coast.
“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two box cars full of spy equipment is he didn’t know it was there,” Biden told the crowd.
“No, I’m serious,” he added. “That was the great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened.“
Biden also played down trade competition from China, which is the world’s second-biggest economy after the United States but struggling to emerge from COVID-era financial troubles.
“By the way, I promise you, don’t worry about China. Worry about China but don’t worry about China,” Biden said. “I really mean it. China has real economic difficulties.”
Biden’s remarks came hours after his secretary of state, in an interview with MSNBC, had called for the two countries to put the balloon incident behind them, saying it was a chapter that “should be closed.”
In Beijing on Wednesday, Mao told reporters that Biden’s remarks “go totally against facts and seriously violate diplomatic protocol, and severely infringe on China’s political dignity.”
“It is a blatant political provocation,” Mao said.
Mao also reiterated China’s version of the balloon episode, saying the balloon was for meteorological research and had been accidentally blown off course.
Administration officials signaled Wednesday that Biden had no intention of walking back his comments.
Biden and Blinken have made clear “we will continue to responsibly manage this relationship, maintain open lines of communication with the PRC,” Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, told reporters, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.
“But that, of course, does not mean we will not be blunt and forthright about our differences,” including differences on the global competition between democracies and autocracies, Patel said.
U.S.-China tensions have mounted for years as rivalry builds over trade and global influence. Repeated flare-ups have helped escalate the tensions, including over the balloon, U.S. tariffs, sanctions on China, and self-ruled Taiwan.
The U.S. is pressing China to embrace direct communications between Biden, Xi and other senior U.S. and Chinese military and civilian leaders, as a channel to defuse tensions and keep incidents from escalating into open hostilities.
Despite the administration’s diplomatic efforts to soothe relations, analysts point to the Republican political pressure, and note Biden regularly seems to go off-script to criticize Xi.
Bonnie Glaser, Asia director of the George Marshall Fund of the United States, pointed Wednesday to Biden’s state of the union address in February, soon after the balloon flight, as Republican lawmakers in the audience heckled him over China and other issues. Waving a finger in the air, Biden cried out, “Name me a world leader who’d change places with Xi Jinping! Name me one! Name me one!”
For Biden, “he’s under a lot of criticism from the right. He doesn’t want to be seen as soft on China. He views Xi Jinping as a dictator,” Glaser said.
“And he’s not very good … at differentiating what should be said in public and what should be said in private,” Glaser said. “And the relationship pays a price for it. There’s no doubt about it.”
Xi was likely upset by the claim that he hadn’t been fully informed about the balloon incident, said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies and a longtime observer of Chinese politics.
“My sense is that Xi may not want to overreact and put the relationship back on ice again,” Tsang said in an email.
The initial Republican response to Biden’s remarks was approving. “It’s an appropriate description of their system of government,” Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.
While Xi heads a country formally named the People’s Republic of China, he faces no limits on his terms as head of state, commander of the military and leader of the ruling Communist Party, which brooks no challenges to its authority.
In California, Biden had told donors that Xi “wants to have a relationship again.”
Blinken “went over there … did a good job, and it’s going to take time,” he said.
Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.
Macron appeals to China’s Xi to ‘bring Russia to its senses’
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping called Thursday for peace talks over Ukraine after French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to him to “bring Russia to its senses,” but Xi gave no indication Beijing would use its leverage as Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic partner to press for a settlement.
Xi gave no sign China, which declared it had a “no limits friendship” with Moscow before last year’s invasion, had changed its stance since calling for peace talks in February.
“Peace talks should resume as soon as possible,” Xi said. He called on other governments to avoid doing anything that might “make the crisis deteriorate or even get out of control.”
Beijing, which sees Moscow as a partner in opposing U.S. domination of global affairs, has tried to appear neutral in the conflict but has given Putin diplomatic support and repeated Russian justifications for the February 2022 attack. Xi received an effusive welcome from Putin when he visited Moscow last month, giving the isolated Russian president a political boost.
The Chinese leader said “legitimate security concerns of all parties” should be considered, a reference to Moscow’s argument that it attacked Ukraine because of the eastward expansion of NATO, the U.S.-European military alliance.
During talks earlier, Macron appealed to Xi to “bring Russia to its senses and bring everyone back to the negotiating table.”
Macron pointed to Chinese support for the United Nations Charter, which calls for respect of a country’s territorial integrity. He said Putin’s announcement of plans to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus violated international agreements and commitments to Xi’s government.
“We need to find a lasting peace,” the French president said. “I believe that this is also an important issue for China.”
Macron was accompanied to Beijing by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a show of European unity.
Von der Leyen said she encouraged Xi to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Chinese leader “reiterated his willingness to speak when conditions and time are right.”
“I think this is a positive element,” von der Leyen said.
Von der Leyen warned China against sending military equipment to Russia, echoing a warning Wednesday by NATO’s 31 member governments of “severe consequences” for shipments of weapons or ammunition.
“Arming the aggressor is a clear violation of international law,” von der Leyen said. “This would indeed significantly harm the relationship between the European Union and China.”
China is the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas, which helps prop up the Kremlin’s revenue in the face of Western sanctions. That increases Chinese influence, but Xi appears reluctant to jeopardize that partnership by pressuring Putin.
“China has always adhered to an objective and fair position on the issue of the Ukraine crisis,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning. “We have been an advocate of a political solution to the crisis and a promoter of peace talks.”
Also Wednesday, the French and Chinese governments announced agreements including the purchase of 160 Airbus aircraft by a Chinese leasing company and for their companies to collaborate on nuclear, solar, wind power and biofuel development.
ITF resumes tennis in China with no word on Peng Shuai
TOKYO (AP) — The International Tennis Federation will play tournaments this year in China with no word of a resolution to the case of Chinese doubles player Peng Shuai.
Peng disappeared from public view shortly after accusing a former high-ranking Communist Party official — in a web posting in November of 2021 — of sexual assault.
The ITF, which conducts tournaments below the elite level in its World Tennis Tour, lists its first tournament in China on June 5-11 at Luzhou. The ITF’s last full season in China was 2019, prior to COVID-19.
“The ITF anticipates a resumption of tournament activity within China for each of the ITF Tours later this year,” the ITF said in a statement.
The WTA, which runs the sport’s top-tier women’s events, hasn’t announced if it will resume staging tournaments in China.
In late 2021, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon announced that the WTA would be suspending all of its tournaments — including the season-ending WTA Finals — that were held in China because of concerns over Peng, costing the tour millions.
The men’s ATP has scheduled several event for later this year in China. It canceled 2022 events because of COVID-19 restrictions in China.
Peng gave a controlled interview a year ago during the Winter Olympics in Beijing and had dinner at the event with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. She left many questions unanswered and has largely been out of public view since then.
Simon has repeatedly called for a “formal investigation” into the allegations made by Peng, and has asked to meet privately with Peng. It’s not clear those conditions have been met.
In a statement announcing the ITF men’s and women’s tournaments returning to China, ITF President David Haggerty said the sport’s world governing body had to invest in the professional events that worked as “the main artery for the top level of the game.”
“As the global guardians of the game, we are passionate about providing a pathway for up and coming talent in all countries, and providing more opportunities for players to play closer to home,” Haggerty said, adding that the ITF was pleased to be returning to countries such as China, Burundi, Cyprus, Trinidad & Tobago and Taiwan.
AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports