A fleet of driverless taxis will carry passengers in China’s capital Beijing after search-engine and artificial-intelligence firm Baidu received approval to deploy 10 autonomous vehicles in a 60-square-kilometre economic development zone. The permit, granted to Baidu’s Apollo Go autonomous ride-hailing service, represents a major step forward in China’s effort to commercialise driverless technology. “Baidu’s success in obtaining government permits to operate fully driverless services across multiple cities in China is rooted in the company’s decade-long technical exploration in autonomous driving,” the company said on Friday. In August 2022, Baidu received the green light to launch so-called robotaxi services in the cities of Wuhan and Chongqing, marking the first time that fully driverless cars took to mainland Chinese roads. “Chinese authorities are increasingly confident in the autonomous-driving technologies developed by domestic tech firms,” said Gao Shen, an independent analyst in Shanghai. “Operation of driverless taxis in Beijing will be a big test for the safety and viability of the technologies, and the robotaxi service will be expanded fast across the country if the trial run in Beijing proves to be a success.” Baidu did not say when the driverless taxis will be available. The 10 self-driving cabs will be deployed in southeastern Beijing’s Yizhuang Economic Development Zone. China, the world’s largest automotive and electric vehicle (EV) market, began trial runs of robotaxi services in 2020, but most of the cars have had a human “security officer” behind the wheel in case of emergency. Baidu launched Apollo, an open-source autonomous driving platform, in 2017. Aside from the robotaxi business, it is also ramping up development and production of EVs with autonomous-driving technology for sale to the public. The company said it had accumulated more than 50 million kilometres of testing time using level 4 (L4) automation technology. According to SAE International, a global standardisation body, L4 autonomous driving does not require human intervention in most circumstances, but the driver still has the option to manually take control of the car. L5, or full driving automation, means a vehicle does not need any human intervention under any circumstances. Alibaba drives deeper into autonomous driving with Geely partnership Baidu’s carmaking arm, Jidu, plans to start assembling its first mass-production model this year , joining the fray against global EV leader Tesla and a clutch of mainland rivals including Nio , Xpeng and Li Auto . On Thursday, Baidu held the public debut of Ernie Bot , a highly anticipated ChatGPT alternative, which received recognition from reviewers for its Chinese-language capabilities. During the Ernie Bot launch event in Beijing, Baidu founder and CEO Robin Li Yanhong said that while the new AI product is not perfect, the company is launching it now “because there is market demand”. Hong Kong-listed shares of Baidu jumped 13.7 per cent to HK$142.20 on Friday.