Baidu, the Chinese internet giant that became known for its search engines, is making some big strides in autonomous driving.

Starting this week, the public can ride its robotaxis in Wuhan between 7 am and 11 pm without safety drivers behind the wheel. Previously, its unmanned vehicles could only operate from 9 am to 5 pm in the city. The updated scheme is expected to cover one million customers in certain areas of Wuhan, a city of more than 10 million people.

Like most autonomous vehicle startups, Baidu combines a mix of third-party cameras, radars, and lidars to help its cars see better in low-visibility conditions, in contrast to Tesla’s vision-based solution.

That sounds like a potentially substantial revenue stream for Baidu, but one should take such figures with a grain of salt and ask: how many of these trips are subsidized by discounts? How many of them are repeatable, daily routes rather than one-off novelty rides taken by early adopters? To juice up performance numbers, it’s not uncommon to see Chinese robotaxi operators enticing the public to ride in their vehicles with perks.

As one of the few remaining consumer internet sectors still with big room to grow, autonomous driving is getting warm support from local authorities nationwide. Case in point, Wuhan, an industrial hub in central China, is one of the first cities in the country to let robotaxis chauffeur the public without in-car safety operators. And now, the city seems to be comfortable with driverless cars roaming about even in low-light nighttime.

Baidu starts offering nighttime driverless taxis in China by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch