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Baidu Robotaxis Face Criticism from Human Drivers as Service Gains Popularity

Baidu's Apollo Go service in Wuhan is growing popularity, but local taxi drivers have complained. Wuhan Jianshe Automotive Passenger Transportation said that taxis were leaving owing to falling income caused by robotaxis. Baidu's self-driving project intends to generate revenue and increase the Apollo Go fleet in Wuhan.

Baidu Apollo Go robotaxi
Credit: Reuters

Baidu's self-driving subsidiary in Wuhan, China, is drawing criticism from local taxi drivers and citizens as its fleet of over 500 driverless taxis, known as Apollo Go, develops popularity. Despite strong criticism, the service has grown so popular in the city of 13.7 million that local taxi drivers are lobbying the municipal transportation authority to restrict its use.

Wuhan Jianshe Automotive Passenger Transportation, a local taxi operator, reported that four of its taxis had quit since April due to declining income. The company accused the robotaxis of "taking jobs from the grass roots." This highlights the complications of introducing autonomous services in urban areas.

Baidu, the Beijing-based artificial intelligence firm, has yet to respond to the accusations. However, the company has previously reported instances of Apollo Go falsehoods on social media and assisted in the arrest of over ten offenders. After years of blowing cash, Baidu's self-driving initiative is finally attempting to make a profit. Wang Yunpeng, head of the company's Intelligent Driving Group, stated in an internal letter in April that they are finally seeing positive results.

The Apollo Go service is expected to expand its fleet to 1,000 vehicles in Wuhan and achieve local profitability by the end of this year, according to Chen Zhuo, general manager of Baidu's self-driving unit. Wuhan is considered a national pioneer in driverless technology and has positioned itself as "the world's largest autonomous-driving operation service region." Other cities, such as Shenzhen and Shanghai, have allowed robotaxis in defined areas, although not to the same extent as Wuhan. Baidu intends to repeat Wuhan's success in other cities, aiming to have Apollo Go available in 100 cities by the end of the decade.

While Baidu maintains that Apollo Go passengers are typically satisfied (average service quality rating of 4.9 out of 5), the fleet has received over 300 complaints from Wuhan residents. These complaints, posted on a government-run transport management website, claim that the robotaxis reacts too slowly to traffic lights.

Recently, a small mishap involving a Baidu robotaxi in Wuhan aroused safety worries. The truck was scratched after colliding with an electric scooter that had run a red light. The scooter driver, who was promptly sent to the hospital, suffered no significant injuries and is currently under medical care. Baidu's Apollo Go official indicated that the company is co-operating with the police inquiry.

  • Baidu's Apollo Go service in Wuhan is gaining popularity, but facing complaints from local taxi drivers.

  • Wuhan Jianshe Automotive Passenger Transportation reported taxis quitting due to declining income caused by robotaxis.

  • Baidu's autonomous-driving project aims to turn a profit and expand the Apollo Go fleet in Wuhan.

Source: SCMP

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