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BEIJING: Chinese search engine giant Baidu Inc on Thursday unveiled its new autonomous vehicle (AV) with a detachable steering wheel, with plans to use it for its robotic taxi service in China next year.

The unit cost will drop to 250,000 yuan ($37,031.55) for the new model, compared to 480,000 yuan for the previous generation, Baidu said in a statement.

“This massive cost savings allows us to deploy tens of thousands of AVs across China,” said Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, at the Baidu World conference. “We are moving into a future where taking a robotic taxi is half the cost of a taxi today.”

The new vehicle will have Level 4 autonomous capabilities that require no human intervention, with 8 lidars and 12 cameras located next to the car. Lidars are detection systems, similar to radars, that use pulsed laser light instead of radio waves.

The company has not disclosed the manufacturer of the new model.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at an April conference with investors that the company aims to begin mass production of its robotic axis without steering wheel or pedals by 2024, and predicted that a ride on a robotic axis will cost less than a bus ticket.

Alphabet Inc’s Waymo also unveiled a steering wheelless robotic axle last year and said it plans to roll out its “fully autonomous vehicles” in the US in the coming years.

However, automakers and technology companies around the world are still waiting for nods from regulators to deploy such vehicles in the real world.

The vehicle will hit the road without a steering wheel as soon as Chinese authorities approve it, Baidu Senior Vice President Li Zhenyu said at the conference, adding that the driving ability of Baidu’s new AV can match a skilled human driver with more than 20 years of experience.

Baidu, which launched its self-driving unit Apollo in 2017, is one of a number of companies in China striving to realize the mainstream use of autonomous vehicles.

Its rivals in this area include, backed by Toyota Motor, and WeRide, which has received investment from Nissan Motor and Guangzhou Automobile Group.

Apollo Go, Baidu’s robotaxi service, has operated more than 1 million in 10 Chinese cities since its launch in 2020, and Baidu said in April it received permits to deploy robotaxis without people at the wheel on public roads in Beijing.

($1 = 6.7510 Chinese Yuan Renminbi)

Baidu unveils autonomous vehicle without steering wheel – UK Time News

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