SHANGHAI, Sept 18 — The battle is on between Alphabet in the United States and Baidu in China in regards to the development, launch and rollout of self-driving taxicabs. Baidu recently announced the launch of a test programme in five major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, where residents can take advantage of vehicles equipped with its Apollo autonomous driving system.

Chinese company Baidu has announced the beginning of public tests of its autonomous driving technology Apollo in Shanghai through a small fleet of cabs available to be used by passengers. Known as China's answer to Google, the firm has already invested in five of the country's major cities (Beijing, Changsha, Cangzhou, Guangzhou and now Shanghai) with the objective of being present in some 30 cities by 2024. By then, several thousand vehicles equipped with this technology should be on the road in these Chinese metropolises.

In Shanghai, up to 150 pickup and dropoff stations will soon be opened up to the public so that residents can "automatically" have themselves driven to residential or commercial areas, to the nearest train station or to their work via a service called "Apollo Go."

These cars are equipped with level 4 autonomy, which allows the vehicle to move forward and maneuver alone, without any human intervention in predefined conditions and areas, although at any time a driver can take over in case of an emergency. Baidu is at the same stage of development and testing as Waymo, the autonomous car branch of the American company Alphabet.

Recently, Waymo announced the launch of a handful of self-driving cabs, without drivers, for use by the general public via a dedicated application. Another experiment is already taking place in Phoenix. Waymo has been working on autonomous mobility for more than 10 years now, running its cars and trucks equipped with their own technology. The company now claims to have driven more than 10 million cumulative kilometers. — ETX Studio