Only a handful of companies have been granted a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to operate the vehicle without safety drivers on board. The latest company to join this select group is Chinese tech giant Baidu's autonomous driving unit, Apollo.
While Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) received state authority to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers in 2016, the new permit allows the company to test three autonomous vehicles without anyone behind the wheel. Testing is restricted to specified streets within Santa Clara County, according to the DMV announcement.
This makes Baidu the first permit holder in the state to receive driverless test permits for two different vehicle models.
Removing the safety drivers is an important first step for Baidu Apollo as it continues to refine its software for an eventual commercial launch.
Baidu demonstrated a fully-autonomous Apollo Go robotaxi without a safety driver onboard at the annual Baidu World 2020 conference in September.
Zhenyu Li, Corporate Vice President of Baidu and General Manager of Intelligent Driving Group (IDG), said in the conference, “The three core components of Apollo's Fully Automated Driving technology are: pre-installed, mass-produced vehicles, an 'experienced AI driver', and the 5G Remote Driving Service."
Just a month ago, Baidu said it was granted a permit to deploy self-driving vehicles on public roads in Beijing without human backup drivers on board.
With Apollo, Baidu has made great progress on the development of Level-4 autonomous technology in just over three years.
Baidu began the development of autonomous vehicle technologies in 2013. Since then, Baidu Apollo has become the world’s first open-source autonomous driving platform engaging over 55,000 developers and 210 industry partners. The Apollo platform has compiled more than 700,000 source code lines around the world.