Baidu is not only the dominant search engine in China, but it also controls the world’s largest robotaxi firm, Apollo Go, which has been transporting paying passengers in autonomous taxis without safety drivers since 2021.
Now, the business has released the Apollo RT6, its 6th generation production-ready electric johnnycab. The RT6, slated to enter service in 2023, is the first of a new generation of driverless taxis meant to significantly reduce ride expenses.
Baidu estimates that manufacturing the RT6 will cost just RMB 250,000 (US$37,000) per unit, and its goal is to price human drivers out of the market.
“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, at Baidu World 2022. “We are moving towards a future where taking a robotaxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today.”
It is not the most attractive vehicle, but it is a neat and technologically advanced compact crossover with conventional front doors and electric minivan-style rear sliding doors. And it’s a significant improvement over the company’s current-generation vehicle, with its brain-like camera and sensor package perched on top. Baidu flaunts the fact that the RT6’s 38 sensors, including eight LiDARs and 12 cameras, are better integrated into the design by equipping it with the largest sunroof ever.
This is the company’s first robotaxi designed from the ground up for autonomous service; as such, the steering wheel is an optional add-on. As with Apollo’s previous cars, human drivers stand ready to take over through remote control if the level 4 autonomous system’s 20 million-plus test miles (32 million-plus test kilometres) fail to inform the RT6 of what to do next. Without a permanent steering wheel or driver’s seat, the cabin has ample space. This space may contain additional chairs, vending machines, desktop computers, or game consoles, according to Baidu.
According to Baidu senior corporate vice president Zhenyu Li, who also serves as GM of the company’s intelligent driving group, the RT6’s autonomous driving capability is “equivalent to a skilled driver with 20 years of experience,” but look, we’re pretty accustomed to outrageous statements by autonomous car pushers at this point.
Apollo operates in ten Chinese cities and has provided over one million rides. Check out a video of the RT6 below.