Baidu’s autonomous driving unit, Apollo, is linking up with EV developer Arcfox to develop a fleet of robotaxis using the Apollo Moon autonomous vehicle, whose name invokes NASA’s lunar program. Apollo has been teasing the collaboration on its Weibo feed throughout the week, leading up to an announcement on June 17.
It costs RMB 480,000 (USD 74,700) to create a single Apollo Moon vehicle, which Baidu and Arcfox claim doesn’t require repairs for five years. Baidu Apollo’s goal is to manufacture 1,000 units of the Moon in the next three years.
In April, Arcfox, the EV arm of state-owned auto-focused holding company BAIC, showcased its α-S crossover sedan at the Shanghai Auto Show. The model is equipped with lidar technology, 5G connectivity, as well as Huawei’s fast-charge technology and HarmonyOS, which was designed to be a replacement for the Android operating system on smart devices. Notably, the car is equipped with Huawei’s Kirin 990A in-vehicle chip.
The α-S is capable of L3 autonomy, Arcfox says, which means the driving dynamics and observations of the vehicle’s surroundings are managed by the car’s systems, but the vehicle is only autonomous under set conditions like on mapped roads and highways with physical barriers. A human driver must intervene when the vehicle issues requests.
Major tech companies in China have been tossing their hat in the ring to develop electric vehicles or essential systems for the auto sector. Xiaomi pledged a USD 10 billion investment to build its own car and is on a recruitment drive for more than 20 roles related to autonomous vehicles, Didi has kicked off its own EV project, and Huawei is barreling ahead for a 2025 release for its fully autonomous vehicle.
Baidu established Apollo in 2017. It is running trials ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics for its first commercial autonomous ride-hailing service in an area in Beijing where traffic is light and there is some pedestrian activity. Apollo also runs its Apolong self-driving buses in the same neighborhood.
“Baidu was the first in China to focus on autonomous driving, and we initially focused on the technical side, but the time has now come to develop products and commercialize,” said Li Zhenyu, vice president at Baidu, at the launch event for Apollo Moon.