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Baidu unveils autonomous vehicle without steering wheel

China’s search engine giant Baidu Inc unveiled its new autonomous vehicle (AV) with a detachable steering wheel, with plans to put it to use for its robotaxi service in China next year.

The cost per unit will drop to 250,000 yuan ($37,031.55) for the new model, compared with 480,000 yuan for the previous generation, Reuters reported.

“This massive cost reduction will enable us to deploy tens of thousands of AVs across China,” Baidu’s chief executive Robin Li said at the Baidu World conference. “We are moving towards a future where taking a robotaxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today.”

The new vehicle will possess autonomous Level 4 capabilities that need no human intervention, with 8 lidars and 12 cameras alongside the car.

Lidars are detection systems, similar to radars, which use pulsed laser light rather than radio waves.

Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk said in a conference with investors in April that the company aims to start mass production of its robotaxi without a steering wheel or pedals in 2024, and predicted that a robotaxi ride will cost less than a bus ticket.

Alphabet Waymo also unveiled a robotaxi without a steering wheel last year, saying it planned to roll out its “fully autonomous vehicles” in the US in the coming years.

Automakers and tech companies around the world are still waiting for nods from regulators to deploy such vehicles in the real world.

The vehicle will hit the roads without a steering wheel once Chinese authorities approve it, Baidu Senior Vice President said.

 He said that the driving capability of Baidu’s new AV can match a skilled human driver with over 20 years of experience.

Apollo Go, Baidu’s robotaxi service, has operated over 1 million across 10 Chinese cities since its launch in 2020 and Baidu said in April that it received permits to deploy robotaxis without humans in the driving seat on open roads in Beijing.

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