China’s Baidu gets approval to test self-driving cars in Beijing, days after fatal Uber crash in the US

A line of Baidu autonomous vehicles are seen in an undated photo

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A line of Baidu autonomous vehicles are seen in an undated photo
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Thomson Reuters

  • Tech giant Baidu has received Beijing’s first licenses to test self-driving vehicles on the capital city’s roads.
  • The cars, which are permitted to travel on 33 roads spanning 105 kilometers (65 miles), took their first drive in Beijing on Thursday.
  • Earlier this month a self-driving Uber was involved in a fatal crash in Arizona, raising questions of the technology’s safety.
  • While Uber and Toyota have temporarily halted self-driving testing, Baidu is pushing forward as China tries to position itself as a leader in autonomous vehicles.

China’s capital city has given the green light to tech giant Baidu Inc to test self-driving cars on city streets, just days after an autonomous Uber vehicle killed a woman in Arizona.

Beijing gave Baidu, best known as China’s version of search engine Google, a permit to test its autonomous vehicles on 33 roads spanning around 105 kilometers (65 miles) in the city’s less-populated suburbs, the firm said in a statement.

It is the first company to receive licenses to conduct open road tests in Beijing, and five cars ventured onto public roads in the Daxing district on Thursday.

“With supportive policies, we believe that Beijing will become a rising hub for the autonomous driving industry,” Baidu Vice-President Zhao Cheng said in the statement. “We hope to work with more partners to pave the way for the full development of autonomous driving.”

There is growing scrutiny on safety globally after a fatal accident involving an Uber self-driving car in Tempe, Arizona earlier this month. The autonomous Uber, which was driving at about 64 kph (40 mph) at the time, did not slow down for a pedestrian who was hit and later died.

It is thought to be the first time a pedestrian has been killed by an autonomous vehicle. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash but the local police chief said “Uber would likely not be at fault in this incident.”

Despite this, the company has reportedly paused all self-driving operations in Tempe, San Francisco, and Toronto and a number of other companies, including Toyota, followed suit.

“Because Toyota Research Institute (TRI) feels the incident may have an emotional effect on its test drivers, TRI has decided to temporarily pause its own Chauffeur mode testing on public roads,” Toyota told Business Insider.

There have also been calls for companies to be more transparent about the use of self-driving technology with the public.

But in China, Baidu is leading the push for driverless technology, with Beijing keen to keep up with global rivals such as Waymo, the self-driving arm of Google parent Alphabet and Tesla.

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.

In September last year Baidu announced a $1.5 billion autonomous driving fund, with plans to invest in 100 autonomous driving projects over the next three years.