A week after Baidu CEO Robin Li suggested that commercial use of self-driving technology may arrive sooner than later, the Chinese tech-giant gained official approval to allow its autonomous cars on Beijing city roads.

Beijing's transportation department handed out licenses to Baidu Thursday morning for its autonomous cars on the condition that each vehicle must fulfill a long list of requirements.

READ: Self-Driving Cars to Hit Beijing Streets With Special Testing Road

Before they can be freely used, each self-driving car must complete driving tests of over 5,000 kilometers that demonstrate the vehicle is safe to use and fully complies with local traffic regulations. The roads tests must be performed during the day outside the Fifth Ring Road during non-rush hour periods away from heavily-populated areas such as schools, hospitals, and offices.

Not only that, a specific driver must be assigned to each car to take part in the road tests that can manually override the car controls at any time in case of an emergency. Lastly, the cars must be equipped with onboard surveillance equipment even after fulfilling all other requirements in order to allow continuous monitoring of the car.

As specific as these requirements are, Beijing authorities are doing their part to help Baidu fulfill these conditions. The city has allocated 105 kilometers across 33 roads for autonomous car testing located in the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone, Shunyi District, and Haidian District.

READ: Didi Chuxing Speeds up Autonomous Driving Project as Prototype Cars Hit the Road

Test roads will be marked with signs indicating they that they are such, much in the same way autonomous cars have signs indicating they are self-driving.

Last Thursday, Li was quoted as saying during the Two Sessions parliamentary meeting that large-scale commercial use of self-driving technology may arrive sooner than expected.

"It may take three to five years to put fully autonomous-driving vehicles on truly open roads," said Li.

A January guideline made by the National Development and Reform Commission stated that China should expect vehicles with some autonomous functions will account for 50 percent of new vehicles sold in the country by 2020.

Some experts have speculated that China will be first in the lucrative race to commercialize self-driving technology because its bureaucracy is a "techno-utilitarianism" that assists the country's tech companies with preferential regulations.

Last July, controversy surrounded Li when he was featured in a self-driving demo on a busy Beijing highway, an act that violated local traffic regulations.

At the time, police said they were investigating the matter.

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E-Mail: charlesliu1 (at) qq (dot) com
Twitter: @Sinopath

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