Baidu unveils new robotaxi it says could halve commuting costs

A Baidu employee briefs members of the media on the Apollo RT6, a fully electric vehicle with an ‘optional’ steering wheel that can be removed or installed when required, on July 20, 2022, in Beijing. Chinese search engine and artificial intelligence firm Baidu on Thursday, July 21 unveiled its latest electric autonomous driving vehicle that it says will be soon be part of its robotaxi fleet, as China pushes forward with its autonomous driving ambitions. — AP

Baidu Inc unveiled a new version of its self-driving robotaxi that it says costs nearly half as much to make as the previous model, opening the opportunity for cheaper travel.

Apollo RT6 robotaxis are set to be mass-produced at a cost of 250,000 yuan (RM164,718) per unit, the Chinese search-engine giant said in a statement on July 21. The car, which has a detachable steering wheel, will become available on Baidu’s riding-hailing service in 2023. The company said it plans to eventually deploy “tens of thousands” of the robotaxis.

“We are moving toward a future where taking a robotaxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today,” Baidu co-founder and chief executive officer Robin Li said in the statement.

Beijing-based Baidu is expanding beyond Internet advertising with its push into artificial intelligence technology and autonomous driving, making it less of a target in China’s crackdown on technology firms such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd. Still, the country’s weakening economy and Covid restrictions add to uncertainty over its near-term outlook.

Baidu’s ride-hailing platform Apollo Go deploys 300 driverless cars in major cities including Shanghai and Beijing, and may become profitable in some regions in three years, company vice president Wei Dong told Bloomberg News in April. Baidu has said it plans to expand Apollo Go into 65 Chinese cities by 2025, rising to 100 by 2030.

The Apollo RT6 has a projected operating cycle of more than five years, a Baidu spokeswoman said in an email, adding that the company’s self-developed technology and low-cost sensors helped reduce production costs. – Bloomberg

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