After becoming the first company in China to be granted a permit to run a robotaxi service without the need for a safety driver in August, Baidu has now announced an ambitious plan to have the service cover a wider area than any rival as soon as 2023.

Baidu, which is often referred to as China’s Google, made the announcement on Tuesday during a presentation on self-driving technologies the company has in the works. The company didn’t mention a specific size for the area to be covered, but has previously said it aims to have 600 robotaxis in operation by the end of 2022.

Baidu’s robotaxi service, known as Apollo Go, has been up and running in parts of China since 2021, and since then Baidu says it has managed to deliver 1.4 million rides. A third of those occurred in the third quarter of 2022 alone.

Apollo Go currently operates in limited areas within 10 major Chinese cities, including in Chongqing and Wuhan where the robotaxis operate without a safety driver. Baidu claims they can add new cities to their service in just 20 days, which is made possible thanks to automated map generation.

According to Baidu, around 96% of map generation can now be automated, thanks to AI. The maps are also generated using crowd-sourced data from actual drivers, which is important for real-time updates.

“Baidu’s new generation autonomous driving map is equipped with comprehensive capabilities such as automatic production, real-time fusion, and knowledge enhancement,” Jizhou Huang, Baidu’s head of self-driving technology, said in a statement.

Additionally, Baidu said it is developing its self-driving system to handle scenarios it has not encountered before, known in the industry as the “long tail” problem. Baidu’s solution is an AI system integrating a pre-trained visual-language model with weak supervision, to work in combination with a separate AI system able to recognize thousands of objects. According to Baidu, the setup will enable a self-driving car to quickly make sense of an object not normally seen on the road, such as plastic bag or stray animal.

In the U.S., Alphabet’s Waymo is leading the way when it comes to the operation of a robotaxi service. Waymo’s service is limited to parts of Phoenix and San Francisco, and the company said in October the next location will be Los Angeles.

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