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Guangzhou Launches Multi-Modal Autonomous Platform

Baidu has partnered with Guangzhou’s Huangpu District to roll out what could be the world’s first multi-modal autonomous driving MaaS platform.

The platform will provide AI-driven transportation services in the city starting in the busy Chinese New Year holiday period. The local government hopes the MaaS platform can meet citizens’ needs during the busy holiday period for sightseeing, shopping and celebratory outings.

An initial fleet of over 40 autonomous vehicles will make it possible for citizens to order transport services on demand by making the reservations on the Baidu Maps and Apollo Go mobile apps. The vehicle types that make up these fleet are named Robotaxi, Robobus, Apolong, Apollocop and New Species Vehicle. Robotaxis will operate between 50 pickup stations in the district, providing users with easy access to Chinese New Year festival sites. Apolong minibuses will shuttle sightseers to the flower blossoms around scenic parks and lakes with on-demand stops, while the bigger Baidu Robobus will ferry passengers along fixed routes. Meanwhile, Apollocop patrols the main roads near key festive areas. The vehicles will have safety drivers except the New Species Vehicles, which are smaller pod-like vehicles purposed for un-manned retail, as well as routine cleaning and disinfection.

There is also a network of AI roadside infrastructure and cloud platform. Real-time signal light information such as stoplight countdowns, traffic event alerts and intersection queue length will be broadcasted on the interactive monitors embedded in Robobus or Robotaxi cabins as well as the on the screens mounted on the rear of the Robobuses.

Baidu says they will continue to conduct regular Robotaxi trials even after the Chinese New Year festival and expand to more than 100 Robotaxis and 1,000 pickup stations in the Guangzhou district. It is unclear however if the other modes on the autonomous MaaS platform will also continue to operate. 

Personal comment:

MaaS as such is nothing new. What is new here are the means, that is, the autonomous vehicles and the AI connected roadside infrastructure. If implemented well, these may facilitate and enhance the use of transport services, for example by connecting and synchronizing different transport modes to make the travel from A to B as seamless as possible. MaaS applications can also be directed to people who are driving their vehicles, for example ‘smart parking’ and other real-time traffic interventions. While the multi-modal nature of this trial and the fact it will take place during such a busy period may seem impressive, it is difficult to know from the plans presented in this source how the autonomous platform will or could be integrated with broader public transport and other non-autonomous transport services.

The announcements in this article follow on the heels of Guangzhou-based autonomous driving company WeRide just recently getting approval to expand its tests with AVs in the province’s Haizhu district. According to the source’s authors this will be the first time autonomous vehicles are tested in “core urban areas of a first-tier Chinese city” without safety drivers. The first test roads have a total length of about 11 kilometers. While less flashy than unleashing five modes of autonomous vehicles at the same time for a big festival, the WeRide trial could potentially have more substance.

Written by Mikael Söderman,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Människa-autonomi)