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Baidu crashes the cost of robo-taxis by 75 percent

Steering wheel not required, if desired – or you could add a coffee machine

Chinese tech giant Baidu has revealed a self-driving car it claims can be produced for ¥250,000 ($37,000) – a quarter of the cost to manufacture comparable vehicles.

The Apollo RT6 is slated to roll on Chinese roads in 2023 and was designed from the ground up as an autonomous car, meaning its sensors are embedded around its chassis instead of bolted in place.

The eight LIDAR units and dozen cameras enable level four autonomy, which means operations are restricted to a defined zone and human intervention is possible. But Baidu believes autonomous operations are sufficiently reliable that it will offer the car with a detachable steering wheel.

Removing the steering wheel means more space for passengers, or a coffee machine – one of several in-car commerce options Baidu officials suggested at the vehicle's launch today. The chance to add vending machines reflects the RT6's design for taxi service only, which has also seen the vehicle given a flat floor and sliding door.

Baidu is chuffed about the cost to manufacture the car, suggesting that combined with eliminating drivers the cost of riding a cab could halve.

Which sounds like bad news for China's professional drivers, although Baidu's event also offered them happier news. AI-infused efforts promise to detect traffic on the nation's roads and change the timing of traffic lights accordingly to eliminate congestion. The company also mentioned altering traffic flows after analysing weather events such as fog, so that drivers and the cargos they carry won't be delayed.

The software that makes that sort of thing possible is Baidu's industrial AI platform, Kaiwu – which Baidu announced has been updated to serve industries including control, industrial safety, energy conservation, emission reduction, and manufacturing.

A video demonstration of Kaiwu at work depicted a worker trying to enter a wind turbine to perform maintenance chores, but without having first donned protective gear. Lights flashed and buzzers sounded as he made that attempt. Once properly clothed he was able to ascend and, once atop the giant machine, was able to use data analyzed by Baidu AI to troubleshoot operations.

Baidu's presentation touched on consumer tech, too, revealing a digital personal assistant named DuXiaoxiao can now chat with users of Baidu apps and do a reasonable job of sustaining a conversation thanks to – you guessed it! – Baidu AI.

DuXiaoxiao also sang a pop song and was joined by a male avatar in a duet.

What time to be alive. ®

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