In Beijing, the first ‘Robotaxis’ are put into service.

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In Beijing, the first ‘Robotaxis’ are put into service.

The white taxi at the kerb appears to be a normal automobile, but it has no driver and talks with customers digitally to obtain directions and take payment.

Beijing allowed the commercial use of its first self-driving taxis this week, bringing dozens of the so-called “robotaxis” to the streets of the Chinese capital.

The cars can only carry two passengers at a time and are only available in Yizhuang’s southern district.

A taxi company employee also sits in the front seat in case any emergency intervention is required, but the vehicle drives itself.

The launch is a huge step forward for Baidu, a Chinese computer behemoth, and Pony.ai, a start-up that was given the go-ahead to deploy the cars on Thursday.

However, due to rules and safety constraints, it will be years before the cabs run completely without human involvement.

Chinese consumers, who have embraced e-commerce, online payments, and other digital solutions, are expected to swiftly adjust to the experience of driving a car without a driver, according to developers.

The key to moving the sector forward, according to Pony.ai co-founder Peng Jun, is “regulation, technology, and public acceptability.”

During earlier testing rounds, Pony.ai’s robotaxis performed over 500,000 trips, according to the Toyota-backed start-up.

Passengers who use Baidu’s “Apollo Go” automobiles must download the “Luobo kuaipao” app, which means “radish run,” and hail a cab at one of 600 pick-up and drop-off locations.

In Beijing, there are 67 Baidu taxis on the road, each charging slightly over two yuan ($0.30) for a 5.9-kilometer (3.66-mile) journey.

AutoX, an Alibaba-backed start-up, and DiDi Chuxing, a ride-hailing giant, have both been testing robotaxis in cities around China.

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