Baidu keeps ramping up its autonomous driving ambitions. The Chinese tech company made its name in search engines and still relies greatly on search ads for revenues. But it’s hoping that its heavy bet on autonomous driving will pay off down the road.
Apollo Go, Baidu’s robotaxi service, aims to be in 65 cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030, the firm’s co-founder and CEO Robin Li said on an analyst call Wednesday.
That’s a big batch of licenses that Baidu needs to obtain from local regulators. And eventually, the business’s sustainability comes down to how many of these permits grant commercial operations to Apollo Go, and how many rides the service could actually garner.
For now, Li estimated that Baidu is “probably the largest robotaxi service provider in the world by number of rides.” In the third quarter alone, Baidu offered 115,000 rides, and Li expected the number for Q4 to be “much larger than the reported number you can hear anywhere else in the world.”
In terms of improving its driving tech, Baidu has so far racked up over 16 million kilometers (10 million miles) of L4, self-driven distance. That’s up from 6.2 million miles reported in its first-quarter results.
These enormous figures, however, have limited substance unless we know how many of these rides actually happen on busy city roads rather than designated routes in enclosed areas.
Like most autonomous vehicle companies in China, Baidu is carving out a commercial robotaxi operation while supplying its advanced driving assistance tech to automakers and OEMs.
Baidu has been providing driving solutions to auto companies via its open-sourced Apollo platform since 2017. While the platform has accumulated hundreds of enterprise users, Baidu has fostered closer ties with certain partners. For example, it set up a joint venture with China’s Geely to form electric vehicle maker Jidu Auto, into which the partners would plow 50 billion yuan ($7.7 billion).