Autonomous mobility: Apollo Go’s journey in transforming urban transportation

By Théophile Niyitegeka
On 30 March 2024 at 10:15

The landscape of urban transportation in China is being transformed through the adoption of cutting-edge technology and innovative mobility solutions. The catalyst for this transformation is none other than the self-driving vehicles that are becoming increasingly prevalent on the streets of major cities worldwide.

A pivotal moment in this ongoing revolution was recently witnessed by a group of African journalists in Beijing, who were given an exclusive opportunity to delve into the advancements spearheaded by Baidu, Inc. a market leader in autonomous driving in China in terms of number of test miles and number of test licenses.

This exploration at Baidu’s headquarters located in the northwest section of Beijing, revealed the strides made by Apollo Go, the company’s autonomous ride-hailing service, in reshaping the future of urban mobility.

Baidu, established in 2000, has always been at the forefront of leveraging technology to simplify the complexities of the modern world. With a deep commitment to innovation, Baidu made a strategic pivot towards artificial intelligence in 2010, aiming to enhance internet content discovery.

This decision paved the way for the creation of Baidu Brain, the company’s core AI technology engine, which has since become the backbone of its new AI ventures.

Today, Baidu stands as a leading AI entity, offering a comprehensive AI stack that includes AI chips, deep learning frameworks, and core AI capabilities such as natural language processing, knowledge graph, speech recognition, computer vision, and augmented reality.

Apollo Go, an autonomous ride-hailing service platform, is a testament to Baidu’s relentless pursuit of innovation.

The journey of Apollo Go is characterized by a series of remarkable achievements. In a significant operational upgrade, Apollo Go recently announced the launch of a 24/7 autonomous driving service in selected areas of Wuhan, setting a new benchmark as China’s first provider to offer such a service.

On February 27, 2024, the service took a bold step by launching fully driverless rides across the challenging terrains of the Yangtze River, including both the north and south banks, demonstrating its capability to navigate complex landscapes with precision.

This followed the introduction of driverless airport transportation services in Wuhan in August 2023, making Baidu the pioneer in autonomous airport rides in China. Furthermore, on February 23, 2024, Apollo Go expanded its services to Beijing, launching a robotaxi pilot operation on highways to Beijing Daxing Airport, thereby connecting urban roads and highways with seamless autonomous transportation.

Wuhan, recognized as a leading city in intelligent transportation, has seen its autonomous vehicles cover a total test mileage of over 3,378.73 kilometers by the end of 2023, reflecting the city’s commitment to advancing smart mobility solutions.

Apollo Go’s operation of 300 fully driverless vehicles in Wuhan underscores its dedication to transforming urban transportation. The platform’s user-first approach has resonated well with its customers, as evidenced by an impressive 97.12% of five-star reviews on the app.

With over 5 million cumulative rides provided as of January 2024, Apollo Go’s ambition is to extend its fully autonomous ride-hailing services to a wider audience, further solidifying its position as a pioneer in the field.

Beyond ride-hailing, Baidu’s Apollo platform embodies the company’s vision for the future of intelligent driving. Apollo serves as an open platform, fostering a collaborative ecosystem with more than 200 partners, including tier-one suppliers and strategic collaborators.

This ecosystem approach enhances the reach and value of Apollo’s technology, offering comprehensive solutions that support all major functionalities of autonomous vehicles. Through initiatives such as HD Maps, automated valet parking (AVP), and autonomous navigation pilot (ANP) services, Apollo is at the forefront of building intelligent vehicles and smart roads.

Apollo Go offers robotaxi services in over 10 Chinese cities, marking itself as a leader in delivering fully autonomous robotaxi services in major cities like Beijing, Wuhan, Shenzhen, and Chongqing.

Currently, more than 20 cities in China have established policies favoring autonomous driving tests, enabling upwards of 60 companies to obtain licenses for these experiments.

A visit to the showroom is also an opportunity to experience a trial ride of the Apollo Go robotaxi.

Théophile Niyitegeka / Beijing China