Baidu's first fully self-driving car hit the road. Image: Baidu
Chinese hi-tech firm Baidu has unveiled a plan to let driverless vehicles range freely around an entire city.
The five-year plan will see the autonomous cars, vans and buses slowly introduced to the eastern city of Wuhu.
Initially no passengers will be carried by the vehicles until the technology to control them is refined via journeys along designated test zones.
Eventually the test areas will be expanded and passengers will be able to use the vehicles.
"This is the first city that is brave enough, daring enough and innovative enough to test autonomous driving," according to Wang Jing, the head of Baidu's driverless cars department.
Mr. Wang said the first phase of the trial would last about three years and would involve restricted areas in the city where buses, mid-size vans and cars would be tested.
After three years, the areas of the city in which the autonomous cars can drive will be expanded and the service will be commercialised to allow some of the three million inhabitants of Wuhu to use it.
After five years, he said, the whole city will be open to the driverless vehicles which will mix with human-driven cars, trucks and buses.
Baidu Inc., together with Wuhu city, have signed an agreement to jointly develop autonomous vehicles in the city on May 16.
The company also announced that it would reach cooperation agreements with 10 more cities across the country to do trial operation of driverless cars this year.