China issues T4 licenses to Baidu as driverless car tests begin on public roads

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(Image credit: Baidu)

Baidu announced Monday that it was granted T4 licenses to test self-driving cars in the capital city of Beijing in the first instance of an autonomous vehicle (AV) company qualifying to test on public roads.

Local authorities have granted more than 180 licenses to nearly 40 companies nationwide within automation levels T1 to T3. China set five levels for autonomous test permits ranging from T1 to T5, which correspond to the widely used automation levels issued by the Society of Automation Engineers (SAE). T5 refers to SAE Level 5, meaning the vehicles are completely self-driving, for example.

However, securing a T4 permit does not mean that Baidu’s robotaxis will be allowed to test its vehicles on open roads. So far, AV companies with T4 licenses are only allowed to test vehicles in a closed pilot zone in southern Yizhuang district.

Baidu declined to comment beyond its Chinese-language statement announcing the news when contacted by TechNode on Tuesday.

Still, it is a signal that large-scale AV tests on public roads are beginning. A week ago, Beijing authorities issued a file regulating road management specifically for driverless tests, including evaluating and designating road segments available for tests.

Beijing requires the local district governments to perform a “complete risk evaluation” before allowing AV tests on roads, with clear assessments regarding issues such as current traffic density in the area, possible effects rising with tests, as well as control measures. All selected roads for testing will also be marked on a map once approved. The Beijing government did not reveal specific details or a timetable, however.

China has assigned road segments totaling 600 kilometers (around 373 miles) for autonomous tests across 17 cities. Most of them are located in suburban areas with limited traffic, such as Lingang, a port area in Shanghai where Tesla’s gigafatory is being built, and Nansha, an island that is part of the southern city of Guangzhou.

Last month, Guangzhou and Changsha released new rules granting qualified companies the right to test driverless vehicles. Baidu late last year said it will roll out 100 robotaxis in Changsha, capital of the central Hunan province, by year-end, while WeRide said it was aiming to deploy a fleet of 100 driverless vehicles in Anqing, a city in eastern Anhui Province, by the end of the year.