45 self-driving taxis have officially started trial operation on test roads in Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province on September 26, 2019, and residents can apply for a ride. (Photo: IC)
Chinese internet giant Baidu announced Thursday afternoon that 45 self-driving taxis have started trial operations on real roads in Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province, and citizens residents could apply for a ride.
The roads are 135 kilometers long in a demonstration area of 70 square kilometers. The area is the smartest driving demonstration area with the longest road mileage, the largest area and the most advanced road infrastructure in China.
The Hongqi EV Robotaxis, the model deployed in trial driving, were jointly developed by Apolo, Baidu's open source autonomous car platform and Hongqi, a Chinese luxury car marque owned by the automaker FAW Car Company.
Trial operation began on normal roads with normal traffic flow but the self-driving taxis were not actually driverless: Each car had one safety driver in case of an emergency.
A passenger sits in the back seat of the car and touches the start button on the back of the front seat when they want the car to start.
The taxi first performs a system check and then after confirming no problems, sets off.
The screen displays a three-dimensional road network in real time so that passengers see not only the road, but also other vehicles around them including small cars or big trucks.
The Intelligent Vehicle Infrastructure Cooperative Systems (IVICS) allows vehicles to communicate with moving parts of the traffic system, such as intelligent traffic lights and surveillance cameras, around them.
The camera warns the self-driving cars in advance about accidents, pedestrians and roadworks, and the Robotaxis can decelerate or change lanes.
Smart traffic lights inform cars when the light changes to green or red.
Many users thought it great progress that Robotaxis could run on ordinary roads and hoped to see more self-driving cars on the street.
Others expressed concerns about the safety, punctuality and accuracy of the autopilot vehicles.
"Can the current 4G network handle all the happenings while driving?" one user posted. And some others said they preferred to wait for a real safe 5G enabling self-driving vehicle without a driver.
"Smart driving is a great expedition and today we made a solid baby step forward," Li Zhenyu, vice president and general manager of Baidu's intelligent driving group, told the Global Times on Thursday.
The Changsha trials showed Robotaxi was gradually entering the market, Li said, while underscoring that "we must adhere to the values of safety first in the process," Li said.