Baidu unveils Apollo RT6, a new electric robotaxi that can drive without a steering wheel
About four years ago, we wrote about Baidu after the China search giant teamed up with U.S. automaker Ford to collaborate on a two-year joint autonomous vehicle test project to develop and test self-driving vehicles on designated roads in Beijing, and possibly other Chinese cities. But nothing concrete really came out of their partnership.
It turned out Baidu had a plan of its own. After spending years developing autonomous driving technology, Baidu reportedly held talks with Chinese carmakers in 2020 about making its own electric vehicles. Then in October 2020, Baidu launched trial operations of its self-driving Apollo Robotaxi in Beijing, China.
Fast forward a year later, Baidu unveiled its new electric robotaxi that can drive without a steering wheel. The new electric vehicle, dubbed the Apollo RT6, comes with a detachable steering wheel and costs 250,000 yuan (about $37,313) to produce, which is 48% less than the production cost of its predecessor car. Baidu said it aims to produce 100,000 Apollo RT6 vehicles over an unspecified period of time.
Baidu kicked off its robotaxi business, called Apollo Go, in November 2021, after getting approval from Chinese regulators to charge fees in Beijing. However, a human staff member must still sit in the car.
In April, municipal authorities loosened restrictions on whether the staff member had to sit in the driver’s seat, paving the way to fully eliminating the cost of a taxi driver. It remains unclear when the Chinese government would allow robotaxis to charge fares for rides without any human staff in the vehicles.
“This massive cost reduction will enable us to deploy tens of thousands of [autonomous driving vehicles] across China,” Robin Li, co-founder and CEO of Baidu, said in a statement. “We are moving towards a future where taking a robotaxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today.”
Founded in 2000 by Eric Xu and Robin Li, Baidu is the largest Chinese language Internet search provider and search engine that enables individuals to obtain information and find what they need. Baidu offers functional online search, Tieba community search, industry-based vertical search, mp3 search, portal channels, and instant messaging services. Its products include Baidu Webpage, Baidu Video, Baidu Map, hao123.com, BaiduPedia, Baidu Input, Baidu Toolbar, TTPlayer, Iqiyi, and Sky Software.