By Jon Fingas
Automakers are frequently keen to show off self-driving concept cars without steering wheels, but Baidu is close to putting a vehicle like this on real-world roads. The tech giant has unveiled a new robotaxi, the Apollo RT6, with a removable steering wheel. The option lets ride hailing services offer more space for passengers — this can include extra seats, work desks or even game consoles.
The RT6 unsurprisingly includes Baidu’s newest autonomous driving tech. The Level 4 system (full self-driving under specific conditions) uses a total of 38 sensors, including eight LiDAR units and 12 cameras, to navigate dense urban environments. The company didn’t mention range for the all-electric design, but the flat floor, sliding doors and “interactive” lights should make your commute more enjoyable.
More importantly, the machine is production-ready. The car will cost businesses the equivalent of $37,000 in China, and it should first enter use with Baidu’s own Apollo Go service in 2023. The relatively modest price will make it practical for the company to roll out “tens of thousands” of vehicles across China, and it envisions a future where robotaxi fares cost half as much as those of conventional rides. While that’s not great news for taxi drivers, it suggests that driverless ride hailing could soon be relatively ubiquitous in the country.
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