Baidu Inc. to Deploy 1,000 ‘Apollo Moon' Level-4 Robotaxis Over the Next 3 Years in China

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【Summary】China's Baidu revealed its next-generation electric robotaxi called “Apollo Moon", which the company Baidu says is a monumental milestone in the large-scale commercialization of fully autonomous ride-hailing services in China. Baidu plans to deploy 1,000 Apollo Moon robotaxis over the next three years as part of its "Apollo Go" ride-hailing service.

Eric Walz    Jul 24, 2021 4:00 PM PT
Baidu Inc. to Deploy 1,000 ‘Apollo Moon' Level-4 Robotaxis Over the Next 3 Years in China

Chinese technology giant Baudi Inc., which is often referred to as the "Google of China", has been working on self-driving vehicles since launching its open autonomous driving platform named "Apollo" in 2017. 

The tech giant aims to be the first company to scale and commercialize autonomous driving technology in China, which is the world's biggest auto market. Baidu's plans include a commercial transportation service using fully-autonomous vehicles called "Apollo Go."

Now Baidu has revealed its next-generation electric robotaxi vehicle called "Apollo Moon" that will eventually be used in the expanding service. Baidu says the Apollo Moon EV is a "monumental milestone in the large-scale commercialization of fully autonomous ride-hailing services in China."

Baidu plans to deploy 1,000 Apollo Moon robotaxis over the next three years.

"The launch of Apollo Moon is an important breakthrough signifying the powerful linkage between China's leading autonomous driving technology and the most advanced smart vehicle platform, marking a landmark step in the field of robotaxi ride-hailing services globally," said Zhenyu Li, Senior Corporate Vice President of Baidu and General Manager of Intelligent Driving Group (IDG).

For the new Apollo Moon autonomous vehicles, Baidu is partnering with Chinese automaker BAIC Group's new dedicated EV brand ARCFOX. The robotaxis will be mass-produced with a per unit manufacturing price of RMB 480,000 (~US$74,000), which is about one third of the cost of average L4 autonomous commercial vehicles, according to Baidu.

The reduced cost of production will also lead to scalability, which can support the widespread commercialization of fully autonomous ride-hailing services in China.

The Apollo Moon vehicle utilizes the "ANP-Robotaxi'' architecture, which is a leading navigation pilot product that can reduce the weight of autonomous vehicle hardware. The platform can be used to share intelligent driving vehicle data with other Apollo Moon vehicles to create a closed-loop information ecosystem that allows for level-4 autonomous driving, which has not yet been achieved by the industry. 

SAE Level-4 autonomous systems are those which can operate without any human supervision.

Apollo Moon also includes a precise failure detector and degradable processing algorithms, 5G-powered remote monitoring services and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology.

The V2X communications, which Baidu calls "Apollo Air", allows Apollo Moon to communicate with nearby vehicles, traffic lights, buildings or with embedded sensors in the roadway. The technology can make roads safer by alerting other vehicles in real-time about current road conditions.  

According to Baidu, most autonomous vehicles today rely entirely on their embedded perception systems including lidar, radar and cameras for safe navigation. However, these perception systems can be made safer when combined with additional real-time data from roadside units (RSUs). The data from the RSUs also adds another layer of redundancy. Baidu says this added benefit is one of the reasons why it developed Apollo Air.

Baidu says that with these improved capabilities, hardware redundancy and a custom designed LiDAR for the Apollo Moon, fully driverless autonomy can finally be achieved.

Baidu says that the overall capabilities of Apollo Moon will have improved 10x compared with its predecessors, with a 99.99% success rate of ride-hailing in complex urban cityscapes, allowing for a fully driverless experience that is equivalent to that of human drivers.

"Through this project, ARCFOX and Baidu will work together to explore the forefront of cutting-edge autonomous driving technology. With ARCFOX's advanced automotive platform, we are well equipped to bring Baidu's newest generation of autonomous driving technology to life," said Yu Liu, Chairman of the Board of BAIC BluePark New Energy Technology.

The Apollo Moon robotaxi has a projected service life of over five years. Baidu says it will revolutionize the transportation sector by providing a rugged, dependable and affordable level-4 robotaxi that can stand up to the rigors of everyday commercial use.

Apollo Moon also includes unique features for riders, including a seat belt reminder for rear passengers, AI voice assistant, mobile app climate control, intelligent car doors and more.

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Baidu is now recognized as a world leader in autonomous driving technology. Its development work is being done under its open Apollo autonomous driving and cloud computing platform. Apollo was launched to foster innovation and speed up the development of autonomous driving technology through collaboration between industry partners.

Since launching in 2017, Apollo's development work has grown significantly. Baidu is working with nearly 200 industry partners, including automakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen, and hardware manufacturers Intel and Nvidia.

The Apollo platform has come to be regarded as the "Android of the Automotive Industry." It's the largest open-source autonomous driving platform in the world, according to Baidu. 

The Apollo platform includes cloud-based access to high-definition maps, perception, path planning and a driver simulation engine, which allows testing of autonomous driving behaviors without endangering the public. The Baidu simulation engine has embedded HD maps with centimeter level accuracy and is backed by vast amounts of real-world driving data.

Baidu chose the name "Apollo" for its autonomous driving platform as the work of deploying safe, self-driving vehicles at scale is similar to the challenges faced during the historic lunar landing back in 1969. 

Baidu was the first company in China to pick up passengers in fully-autonomous vehicles when it first opened its "Apollo Go" transportation service to the public last year. Riders in some parts of China can summon one of the company's Apollo Go robotaxis using Baidu Maps or the Apollo Go smartphone app.

To date, Baidu Apollo has been awarded 2,900 patents for its intelligent driving technology. Its fleet of autonomous vehicles has traveled over 12 million kilometers, a number that is continuously growing. Baidu's fleet of driverless vehicles now travels around 40,000 kilometers each day, which is the equivalent of circling the globe once per day.

During a presentation at Auto Shanghai 2021 in April, Baidu unveiled the latest upgrades to Apollo, including plans to offer customizable autonomous driving platforms to other automakers for the commercialization of self-driving vehicles at scale.

Baidu plans to have its intelligent driving solutions available in more than one million vehicles in China over the next three to five years.

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