Chinese AI and internet service behemoth Baidu has announced a new range of multi-purpose autonomous minibuses.
The new minibuses, called Apolong II are being rolled out in Guangzhou’s Huangpu District – about 12 miles from Guangzhou city centre.
However, don’t think that the Apolong II vehicles are jumped-up taxis. Baidu is claiming that they have applications across public transport, mobile policing, healthcare, and other commercial industries.
In fact, Baidu reckons that the Apolong II is so advanced, it has completely eschewed a steering wheel and focused its efforts on the “latest in-vehicle smart cabin technologies.”
The Apolong II has some significant upgrades compared to its predecessor, the Apollo Robotaxi. For example, it has a new computing unit and sensor system and 155 capability enhancements. It also has two 40-channel LiDAR sensors that integrate millimetre-wave radars and surround-view cameras.
The refined sensor system can detect objects up to 250 metres away, while “positioning accuracy and overall responsivity have reached new levels to be measured in centimetres or milliseconds, respectively.”
In fact, the Apolong II is so advanced that it “can successfully navigate the complexities of operating on open roads, such as unprotected left turns, lane-switching and crossing traffic scenarios,” according to Baidu.
The Apolong II utilizes Baidu’s vehicle-to-everything and 5G remote driving service, complete with dual redundancy to ensure safety and reliability. With seamless vehicle-road coordination, issues related to smart driving for individual vehicles can be reduced by 54%, while emergency braking situations at intersections are reduced by 90%. The 5G cloud-based driving can also enable the autonomous minibus to drive safely and smoothly even under extreme circumstances.
For passengers, the Apolong II gets an “intelligent 55-inch transparent window display to visually showcase the road conditions and autonomous driving technologies at work.” We’re not entirely certain why a regular window wouldn’t have sufficed.
Passengers can also use this HD screen to voice-activate and command the in-vehicle DuerOS assistant. They’ll be able to explore the surrounding area for dining and entertainment recommendations, for example. It also offers a circular seating arrangement with dome lighting fixtures which “provide an innovative yet intimate experience for users.”
The Apolong series has been in production since July 2018 and has already been deployed in 22 urban parks across Beijing, Guangzhou, Xiong’an, Chongqing, and Foshan. These buses have seen 120,000 users cover more than 120,000 km.