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Tesla Will Envy the Permit That Baidu Just Received

Baidu gets regulatory approval to provide driverless passenger rides to the public on open roads in Beijing. That's likely to catch Tesla CEO Elon Musk's attention.

Is your Mom tech-savvy? Baidu  (BIDU) -  really wants to know.

"Moms aren't usually known for their technological expertise ... is tech one of the things you're helping your mom with this ?" the Chinese tech giant asked in a May 3 .

'Welcome to the Future, Mom!'

like helps make life easier for the older generation, so we can look after mom like she looked after us," the tweet said.

Baidu said that it recently received the first-ever regulatory approval in China that enables the company to provide driverless passenger rides to the public on open roads in Beijing.

. "I can't stop to imagine what's going to happen in future."

The regulatory milestone, as Baidu described it, enables the removal of a safety operator from the driver’s seat and "represents a major step towards a fully driverless future."

Ten autonomous vehicles without drivers behind the steering wheels will offer rides to passengers in a designated area of 60 square kilometers, or about 23.2 square miles, in China's capital city.

Starting April 28, users were able to hail a driverless ride using the Apollo Go mobile app in the daytime from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time.

Baidu, which has the largest autonomous driving fleet in China, said that later it would add 30 more such vehicles, expanding its fleet to provide more convenient driverless services to the public.

'Look, Ma, No Steering Wheel'

In November, Baidu and Pony AI became the first companies to be granted licenses by Chinese authorities to launch their driverless cab services commercially following successful trial periods.

This latest development is likely to get the attention of other automakers looking to get their piece of the driverless vehicle market.

Tesla  (TSLA) -  Chief Executive Elon Musk recently announced that the electric-vehicle maker is working on its robotaxi, self-driving cars capable of operating with no one inside, picking up passengers and delivering them to customer-chosen locations.

During Tesla's first-quarter-earnings call, Musk said the company would be working on a robotaxi that's "highly optimized for autonomy, meaning it would not have steering wheel or pedals."

Musk said Tesla would do a product event for the robotaxi next year while "aiming for volume production in 2024," according to of the call.

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With the robotaxi and autonomy, Musk said "we will end up providing consumers with, by far, the lowest cost per mile of transport that they’ve ever experienced."

"I mean, looking at some of our projections, it would appear that a robotaxi ride will cost less than a bus ticket, a subsidized bus ticket or subsidized subway ticket," he said.

Autonomous-vehicle makers got some good news in March, when the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a "first-of-its-kind" final ruling that updated the occupant protection Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

The update accounts for vehicles that do not have "the traditional manual controls associated with a human driver because they are equipped with automated driving systems."

'Officially Entering the Driverless Phase'

General Motors'  (GM) -  Cruise subsidiary is enabling San Francisco residents to receive complimentary driverless rides in its Chevy Bolt EV test cars.

The Cruise Origin robotaxi is scheduled to go into production later this year at the GM Factory Zero plant. 

that the company is "making rapid progress at ."

"Seeing people experience Cruise's technology reaffirms the team's remarkable work and dedication," Barra said. "Their self-driving fleet has driven 40 times the distance between San Francisco and New York City."

Wei Dong, vice president and chief safety operations officer at Baidu Intelligent Driving Business Group, said in a statement that China's regulatory approval means that intelligent driving in China has officially entered the "driverless" phase.

But there are some bumps in the road, as Mizuho analyst James Lee pointed out when he lowered his price target on Baidu to $285 from $300 while keeping a buy rating on the shares. 

Lee said in a research note that he expected the first half of 2022 to be challenging for China's internet, given the ongoing disruptions to consumer spending and business activities from covid restrictions. 

He said that he anticipated the negative impact to be spread across all segments of the internet, including e-commerce, advertising and cloud computing.

Covid is a not a structural risk, he said, but the ongoing dynamic [zero-covid] policy will "continue to delay the recovery schedule."

Withal, there's one happy mom in Beijing who appears in Baidu's video and who has nothing but nice things to say about the company's robotaxi service.

"I had no idea that this kind of technology could make life easier for people like me," she said.