BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) -Baidu and Pony.ai said on Thursday they had received permits to deploy robotaxis without humans in the driving seat on open Chinese roads for the first time, in another instance of Beijing city's support for the autonomous-driving sector.
The permits are the latest set of approvals the municipal government has handed out over the past year to the two companies, which have been allowed to test drive their autonomous vehicles in some areas of the city.
The new permits allow both companies to offer rides to the general public from cars without anyone sitting behind the steering wheels on open roads within a 60 square kilometre (23 square mile) area in the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone.
Baidu said 10 of its autonomous vehicles would offer such rides.
Pony.ai would still have safety supervisors in the front passenger seats for now, it said. It would deploy four driverless vehicles under the new permit and expected to add more in the future, it added.
Baidu's Hong-Kong listed shares rose as much as 5% after the announcement.
In November the two companies were allowed to launch fee-charging robotaxi services in a smaller area in the same zone, but authorities required them to retain a safety driver behind the wheel.
Pony.ai, backed by Toyota Motor also obtained a taxi licence in Guangzhou on Sunday, allowing 100 of its autonomous vehicles to start charging fares for rides in the southern city's Nansha district. These vehicles will retain safety drivers.
(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang, Zhang Yan and Brenda Goh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Bradley Perrett)