Baidu and Pony.ai said they had received permission to use driverless robotaxis on China’s open roads for the first time. This is a sign of Beijing’s support for the autonomous driving sector.
The permit is the latest approval that the Municipal government has given over the past year to the two companies, which had previously also been allowed to test their autonomous vehicles in several areas of the city.
The new permits allow the two companies to offer rides to the general public from cars without anyone behind the wheel on an open road within a 60-square-kilometre (23-square-mile) area of the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone.
Baidu said its 10 autonomous vehicles would offer such rides. However Pony.ai will still have a safety supervisor in the front passenger seat for now. They will deploy four driverless vehicles under the new permit and are expected to add more in the future, he added.
Hong-Kong-listed Baidu shares rose as much as 5% after the announcement.
In November, both companies were allowed to launch a paid robotaxi service in a smaller area of the same zone, but authorities required them to keep safety drivers behind the wheel.
Pony.ai, backed by Toyota Motor, also obtained a taxi license in Guangzhou on Sunday, allowing its 100 autonomous vehicles to start charging fares for travel in the southern city’s Nansha district. This vehicle will maintain driver safety.