Author: Eric Walz
Chinese tech giant Baidu Inc, which is the equivalent of Google in its home country, held its annual “Baidu World 2022” technology conference this week which included several major announcements. Among them was the unveiling of Baidu’s production-ready Apollo RT6 robotaxi, a fully autonomous passenger vehicle designed for autonomous urban mobility.
The Apollo RT6 is the sixth generation of Baudi’s autonomous vehicle and was built from the ground up for commercial transport. It is the first vehicle built on Xinghe, which is Baidu’s in-house developed automotive E/E architecture specifically designed for fully autonomous driving.
All electrical components and hardware of the RT6 are 100% automotive grade with full redundancy in hardware and self-driving software. Baidu’s older generations of autonomous vehicles have been retrofitted from conventional vehicle platforms.
The futuristic RT6, which includes a removable steering wheel to free up additional cabin space, will be used in Baidu’s autonomous mobility commercial service, Apollo Go. The steering wheel-less design allows for greater interior customization, such as the addition of extra seats, desktop computers, game consoles, even a small vending machine where passengers can buy snacks or drinks.
The vehicle is also equipped with smart electric sliding doors to further enhance the driving experience.
Baidu’s Apollo Go Service is similar to US ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft. Riders use an app to summon a driverless Apollo Go vehicle and wait at a nearby train station for the vehicle to arrive and pick them up.
The Apollo RT6 is expected to join the Apollo Go transportation service fleet starting in 2023. The number of vehicles on the platform is expected to grow to include tens of thousands of vehicles.
IHS Markit predicted in its 2021 China Self-Driving Market and Future Mobility Market Outlook that driverless robotaxi services like Apollo Go will account for 60% of China’s $347 billion ride-hailing market by 2030.
The RT6 features Level 4 autonomous driving capability, meaning no human intervention is ever required for safe operation. Zhenyu Li, senior vice president of Baidu and general manager of Intelligent Driving Group (IDG), said Apollo RT6’s self-driving capabilities are equivalent to a trained human driver with 20 years of experience.
Since Apollo Go vehicles are designed to operate without a safety driver, they are backed by a 5G-powered “remote driving service”. It allows a human operator to take control of the vehicle remotely in the event that the software encounters unexpected obstacles during the journey, such as a disabled vehicle or a lane closure due to construction work.
To support Level 4 autonomous driving, the RT6 has 1,200 TOPS (trillions of operations per second) of computing power and 38 on-board sensors to safely navigate complex urban environments. The exterior of the RT6 features a revolutionary look that seamlessly integrates all of the vehicle’s sensors for autonomous driving on the sunroof alongside interactive lights.
Autonomous driving sensors are mounted on the roof of the RT6.
The RT6’s sensor suite includes 8 lidars and 12 cameras, to achieve highly accurate, long-range 360-degree perception around the vehicle. The safety and reliability of the Apollo RT6 robotaxis is backed by a wealth of real-world data used to improve the self-driving software.
The vast trove of data was collected by Baidu’s self-driving vehicle fleet that has traveled over 32 million kilometers (~20 million miles) on public roads without any accidents.
The production costs per unit of the RT6 are also extremely low at 250,000 RMB (~$37,000), which will help accelerate the deployment of large-scale autonomous vehicles in China and make autonomous mobility services more affordable and accessible. to the public.
“This massive cost reduction will allow us to deploy tens of thousands of AV vehicles across China,” said Robin Li, co-founder and CEO of Baidu. “We are heading towards a future where taking a robotaxi will cost half the price of a taxi today.”
Baidu is already the world’s largest robotaxi service provider. Since its initial launch in 2020, the Apollo Go carpooling service has expanded to 10 cities in China and provided more than 1 million rides.
In April, Baidu received the first-ever permits in China allowing the company to provide fully driverless transportation services to the public in Beijing, which means no safety drivers will be present in Apollo Go vehicles.
It represented a benchmark achievement in the autonomous mobility industry and showed the strength of Baidu’s technology. The complex and crowded streets of Beijing are among the most challenging environments in the world for an autonomous vehicle.
Baidu has been working on self-driving technology since 2014. In 2017, the company launched its Apollo open self-driving platform, designed to accelerate the development of self-driving technology through collaboration with industry partners. .
Since then, the Apollo platform has been considered “the Android of the automotive industry”. It is the world’s largest open-source autonomous driving platform, according to Baidu.
Baidu now works with more than 200 industry partners under Apollo, including automakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen, and hardware makers Intel and Nvidia.
At Baidu World 2021 held last August, the company’s CEO, Robin Li, unveiled his vision for the mobility of the future in the form of a futuristic “robocar” designed to make self-driving vehicles more accessible. to the general public. The robocar is capable of Level 5 autonomous driving, meaning no human intervention is ever required.
Baidu’s robocar concept features automated butterfly doors and a transparent glass roof to make the interior more spacious for passengers. For passenger comfort, the interior includes zero-gravity seats, a large curved smart display and a control pad.
Other features include voice and facial recognition and advanced AI technology. The robocar can analyze the internal and external environment and make predictive suggestions to proactively meet the needs of its passengers, according to Baidu.
Li thinks the vehicles of the future will look more like “intelligent robots” than passenger vehicles. He predicts that these vehicles will “move, communicate and learn” thanks to artificial intelligence.
In January, Baidu’s new smart electric vehicle joint venture, JIDU, announced that it had closed a $400 million Series A financing. JiDU is backed by technology company Baidu and Chinese automaker Geely, which is the parent company of Swedish automaker Volvo Cars.
JiDU’s mission is to create and design “intelligent human-centered robotic vehicle with AI-powered human-computer interaction technology”. The vehicle will have the innate ability to learn and progress while providing superior self-driving capabilities.
JIDU’s first model will use the powerful NVIDIA DRIVE Orin system-on-chip (SoC) to support L4 autonomous driving capabilities. Baidu says the vehicle’s intelligent autonomous driving system will be able to handle all driving scenarios, from highways to busy city streets. The autonomous driving system’s software and algorithms were jointly developed by JiDU and Baidu.