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Baidu unveils self-driving robotaxi with removable steering wheel

The search engine giant plans to launch the fully autonomous vehicle in 2023.

Baidu unveils self-driving robotaxi with removable steering wheel

China’s search giant Baidu has flexed its artificial intelligence technology by unveiling a fully autonomous vehicle, the Apollo RT6. This new vehicle comes equipped with a detachable steering wheel and the firm plans to deploy this roboxtaxi all across China in the second half of 2023. 

The Apollo RT6 is a cross between an SUV and a multipurpose van and will join Baidu’s taxi service, Apollo Go, next year. The RT6 is Baidu’s sixth-generation autonomous vehicle, but the first model to be based on the company’s in-house Xinghe self-driving platform, which is specially designed for Level 4 autonomous driving capability.

What autonomous Level 4 means is that the Apollo RT6 can drive by itself without any human mediation. With a total of 38 sensors including eight lidars, a detection system similar to radars, 12 cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and one 0.6mm wave radar, it can navigate through urban driving conditions. 

Zhenyu Li, Senior Corporate Vice President of Baidu and General Manager of Intelligent Driving Group (IDG), said the autonomous driving capabilities of Apollo RT6 are equivalent to a skilled human driver with 20 years of experience.

According to Baidu, by internally developing the battery-electric platform the cost per unit will keep at an affordable level of 250,000 Yuan (around Rs 25 lakh). “This massive cost reduction will enable us to deploy tens of thousands of AVs across China,” said Robin Li, Co-founder and CEO of Baidu. “We are moving towards a future where taking a robotaxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today,” he added.

With the option of removable steering, Baidu has the option to customize the cabin and increase the space for more luggage room and better accessibility. This also gives the company an option to increase the AI electric vehicle’s seating capacity or install a refrigerator, a desktop for work and entertainment purposes etc.

In April at an investors conference, Tesla’s Chief Executive Elon Musk revealed that the company plans to start mass production of its robotaxi without a steering wheel or pedals by 2024. According to Musk, robotaxi ride services will be affordable and will be cheaper than the current public transportation like the bus service.

Baidu’s robotaxi service provider, Apollo Go, currently offers over 1 million taxi rides in 10 cities in China.

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