Chinese search giant Baidu has received approval to begin testing its self-driving cars in Beijing, Reuters reports. It is a sign of China’s strong support for the industry in the wake of the first pedestrian death from an autonomous Uber vehicle in the US.
Baidu, which is known as China’s version of Google, received a permit to test its vehicles on 33 roads spanning around 65 miles (105 kilometers) in the city’s less-populated suburbs, the firm said in a statement. Baidu is seen as the nation’s leader in autonomous driving, having launched a new platform last year aimed at helping car manufacturers produce self-driving vehicles faster.
Earlier this month China issued licenses to Shanghai-based SAIC Motor Corp and electric vehicle start-up NIO to begin testing self-driving vehicles. Didi Chuxing, China’s ride-hailing giant, is also developing its own autonomous vehicles.
That said, China is still trying to catch up to the US in terms of public road testing, and Baidu is seen as best positioned to help the country make up for lost ground. Last year, Baidu said it would first open up Project Apollo for cars operating in restricted environments, before offering it to vehicles driving in simple urban road conditions. The company predicts it will have cars operating fully autonomously on highways and regular roads by 2020.
Baidu CEO Robin Li stirred controversy last year when he tested one of his company’s self-driving cars for a tech conference in defiance of China’s rules outlawing such tests. Li reportedly was targeted for an investigation after the test, though no outcome has ever been reported.