Baidu reveals its 6th-gen robotaxi, with detachable steering wheel
Hundred-billion dollar tech giant Baidu doesn't just dominate the search engine game in China, it also owns the world's largest robotaxi company, Apollo Go, which has been taking paying customers in autonomous cabs since 2021 without safety drivers on board.
Now, the company has released its 6th gen, production-ready electric johnnycab, named the Apollo RT6. Set to go into service in 2023, the RT6 represents the first of a new generation of autonomous taxis designed to drive ride costs into the ground.
Baidu says the RT6 will cost just RMB 250,000 (US$37,000) per unit to manufacture, and its target is to price human drivers out of the game. "This massive cost reduction will enable us to deploy tens of thousands of AVs across China," said Robin Li, Co-founder and CEO of Baidu, at Baidu World 2022. "We are moving towards a future where taking a robotaxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today."
It's not the sexiest of vehicles, but its a tidy and techy compact crossover design with regular doors at the front and electric minivan-style sliders at the back. And it's a big step forward from the company's current-gen car, with its chunky camera and sensor package riding on top like a brain slug. The RT6's 38 sensors, including eight LiDARs and 12 cameras, are much more nicely integrated with the design – a fact Baidu shows off by giving it the mother of all sunroofs.
This is the company's first ground-up robotaxi, built first and foremost for driverless service, and as a result, the steering wheel is a detachable afterthought. As with Apollo's other vehicles, human drivers stand ready to take over by remote control if the 20 million-odd test miles (32 million-odd test km) logged by the level 4 autonomous system can't enlighten the RT6 on what to do next. Without a permanent steering wheel or driver's seat, there's plenty of room in the cabin. Baidu suggests this room may be taken up with "extra seating, vending machines, desktops, or gaming consoles."
According to Baidu senior corporate vice president Zhenyu Li, who also serves as GM of the company's intelligent driving group, the RT6's autonomous driving capability is "equivalent to a skilled driver with 20 years of experience," but look, we're pretty accustomed to outrageous statements by autonomous car pushers at this point.
Apollo is already operating in 10 Chinese cities, and has supplied over a million rides. Check out the RT6 in a video below.