Baidu wants to get enter the autonomous car game and the Apollo RT6, an electric minivan whose steering wheel can be removed is the first vehicle it’s actually building itself. The Chinese internet giant says it has no fewer than 8 Lidar sensors, 18 radars and 12 cameras to allow it to drive without requiring the driver’s attention and all the sensors are actually integrated into the design of the roof.
The RT6 was conceived to be integrated into the Apollo Go ride-hailing robotaxi fleet, which it will join next year. Baidu considers this its sixth-generation robotaxi and this is the first one it will actually build itself, with Geely’s help. In April of this year the company got a license to operate these vehicles in China with nobody in the driver’s seat, although a supervisor still sits in the vehicle at all times.
Apollo Go reported that it provided some 213,000 rides in Q4 2021, more than any other company of its type (all of them with a safety driver behind the wheel). It operates in ten major Chinese cities including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but it will only be able to offer driverless rides in a small designated area in the capital Beijing.
Until the arrival of the Level 4-capable RT6, Baidu only relied on vehicles from other companies, which it then equipped and turned into self-driving taxi cabs. With its arrival, Baidu says Apollo Go users will notice the improvements that designing a vehicle with self-driving in mind can bring, especially when it comes to use of interior space.
The plan is to have 100,000 of these vehicles on the road in the next few years as Baidu wants to expand the number of cities covered by Apollo Go to 100 by 2030. It does have a direct rival in China, Pony.ai, the only other robotaxi company that back in April was granted the same license to carry passengers with no driver behind the wheel, whose headquarters is actually in Fremont, California.