Tourists coming to Wuzhen, the Venice of China (no, not that one), may soon have the special privilege of getting a free ride between their hotels and scenic spots via driverless cars, as local travel agencies are set to sign an agreement with Baidu.
Wang Jin, head of Baidu’s autonomous driving division, said that Baidu and Wuzhen Tourism Co. are working together closely to research which routes could be best served by driverless vehicles, as well as other operational details, such as costs and the number of vehicles that will be needed. There is no timetable for when they will launch the service.
Despite being a tourist attraction that boasts 1,500 years of history, Wuzhen, located eighty miles to the west of Shanghai, has in recent years become an iconic spot for China’s burgeoning IT industry. In 2014, Wuzhen was designated as the permanent host venue for China’s World Internet Conference.
Baidu’s own driverless car debuted last year at the World Internet Conference and sparked widespread excitement following its completion of a series of rigorous road tests in Beijing last December.
Baidu plans to commercialize its driverless service by 2018 and wants to start the mass-production of driverless vehicles by 2020.
The Chinese internet giant has been placed under increased public and governmental scrutiny following a series of mishaps earlier this year. Most notably, following the death of a 21-year-old university student with cancer in April, Baidu faced the most serious scandal in the company’s history, accused by state media and web users of placing commercial profits over ethics and their users’ health. Many Chinese netizens think that Baidu ought to learn from its international counterpart, Google, as the company right now is “an ‘innovative’ company without any imagination or moral obligation to their customers.” All the negative press has led at 15% dip in Baidu’s stock price since the beginning of the year.
Perhaps the company will be able reestablish its prestige through innovative programs like autonomous driving and KFCs.