Baidu (BIDU) and autonomous driving startup Pony.ai announced Thursday that they had won the country’s first permits to provide robotaxi ride-hailing services to the public. The permits do not require an operator to sit in the driver’s seat.

The services were introduced in Beijing on Thursday, and allow passengers to call for taxis using each company’s respective apps during daylight hours.

For now, each company will be restricted to a designated area of 23 square miles, and they will have to keep an operator in the front passenger seat to take over in case of emergencies. Currently, the programs are being offered for free to riders.

The announcement marks a big step forward for self-driving technology in the world’s largest car market.

Self-driving robotaxis are taking off in China

Baidu is best known for its search engine but it also owns the largest autonomous driving fleet in China. It said it would start off with 10 vehicles under the program and add 30 more later.

Pony.ai, a fast-growing startup that was founded by former Baidu engineers in Fremont, California, said that as many as 300,000 residents in Beijing would be able to try out the experience. The company is backed by automakers including Toyota (TM), and was last valued at $8.5 billion.

China has become an important testing ground for autonomous vehicles, with a small pool of ambitious companies routinely notching new records on various fronts, such as removing the safety driver, opening up their services publicly or operating on public roads, and the number of miles their vehicles have been tested.

Baidu had previously been allowed to offer ride-hailing services in autonomous vehicles in several cities, including Beijing, though a human was still required to stay in the driver’s seat.

AutoX, another Chinese startup backed by Alibaba (BABA), also rolled out fully driverless robotaxis on public roads in Shenzhen in 2020, though that initiative could not accept regular passengers.

Quoted from Various Sources

Published for: Mr Blow Up

You missed

2015. The forensic lab combats cybercrime cases involving underground online marketplaces 2021 2021 in Washington. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Conservative justices seized the moment and delivered the opinion they'd long promised 2022 2022 in Washington a case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks a Republican-led Congress a staggeringly successful generational quest center Chet Strange/Getty Images Donald Trump's lasting legacy will now be the overturning of Roe v. Wade child exploitation contraception and even in vitro fertilization treatments day DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images Broad majority of Americans didn't want Roe v. Wade overturned decades in the making demonstrators and activists gather in front of the Supreme Court as the justices prepare to hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health haymakers on guns in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP Biden says 'Roe is on the ballot' this fall as Democrats consider options on abortion rights June 22 majority public opinion Monday Nov. 1 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin/AP/FILE Some states move quickly to ban abortion after Supreme Court ruling on December 1 outlaw abortion not just in conservative states polling prior to Supreme Court decision shows President Joe Biden said President Joe Biden speaks about gas prices in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus Protesters ruling same-sex marriage speaks to anti-abortion activists at a rally outside the Supreme Court Supreme Court’s overturning Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton The Department of Homeland Security logo is seen at the new ICE Cyber Crimes Center expanded facilities in Fairfax Virginia July 22 WASHINGTON Wednesday

A stunning moment in American history decades in the making will reshape politics | CNN Politics