China’s capital city has given the green light to tech giant Baidu Inc to test self-driving cars on city streets, an important step as the country looks to bolster its position in the global race for autonomous vehicles.
The move points to strong support in China for autonomous vehicles even as the global industry reels from a fatal accident involving an Uber self-driving car in the United States earlier this month.
During the announcement of the new licenses, Baidu took five cars powered by Apollo—the company’s open autonomous driving platform—on public road tests with the new permits in Yizhuang, in the Daxing district in the southeast suburbs of Beijing.
“Baidu is committed to building a sustainable, innovative and open autonomous driving ecosystem,” says Zhao Cheng, vice president of Baidu, in a statement. “We hope to work with more partners to pave the way for the full development of autonomous driving, and to build a truly reliable and safe ecosystem for intelligent mobility. With supportive policies, we believe that Beijing will become a rising hub for the autonomous driving industry.
China issued licenses to auto makers allowing self-driving vehicles to be road tested in Shanghai earlier this month, which included Shanghai-based SAIC Motor Corp Ltd and electric vehicle start-up NIO. Regulations in the sector are, however, still catching up with fast growth and increasing numbers of firms wanting to carry out tests on public roads. Baidu Chief Executive Robin Li tested his firm’s driverless car on Beijing’s roads last July, stirring controversy as there were no rules for such a test at the time. The firm hopes to get self-driving cars onto the roads in China by 2019.
Baidu CEO Robin Li stirred controversy last year when he tested one of his company’s self-driving cars for a tech conference in defiance of China’s rules outlawing such tests. Li reportedly was targeted for an investigation after the test, though no outcome has ever been reported.