BEIJING — Baidu can start collecting robotaxi fares in a part of Beijing from Thursday, the Chinese tech giant told CNBC this week, marking a major step toward building its driverless taxi business.
The regulatory approval to support robotaxis in China comes as local governments in the U.S. have been progressing in a similar direction.
However, Beijing city's move carries additional weight.
Approval from China's capital marks the first time such a large city in the country has allowed companies to charge the public for robotaxi rides.
It sets the stage for other cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen to do the same, Wei Dong, vice president and chief security operation officer, at Baidu's Intelligent Driving Group told CNBC in an exclusive interview.
He expects those cities to act later this year or early next year.
Effective Thursday, Baidu's Apollo unit that runs the robotaxi business can collect fares from passengers taking one of 67 self-driving cars in Beijing's suburban district of Yizhuang.
While the company did not disclose exact pricing, it said fares would be comparable with the premium level ride-hailing charges available through apps like Didi, which can cost twice as much as ordinary rides.
Baidu has offered free robotaxi rides in Yizhuang since October 2020. As of Wednesday, the robotaxi app, branded "Luobo Kuaipao," showed a sample fare of 34 yuan ($5.31) for a 3-kilometer ride (1.86 miles) from a Sam's Club in Yizhuang to a nearby subway...