Baidu announces autonomous car partnership

Chinese web services company Baidu has announced that it plans to partner with a local auto manufacturer to build autonomous cars.

A Baidu self-driving car. Image courtesy of Baidu.
A Baidu self-driving car. Image courtesy of Baidu.

Reportedly the company will work with state-owned Chinese carmaker BAIC to produce a number of self-driving cars with the first models being ready by 2019.

According to statements by the company, the models released in 2019 will feature so-called ‘Level 3 Autonomy as an integral feature.

Following this, the company will continue the development of these vehicles and release cars with ‘Level 4’ autonomy by 2021.

Within this scale, a Level 3 car features a large number of autonomous driving features designed to be able to control the car most of the time, however, during some periods a driver may need to take over. Tesla’s current ‘Autopilot’ technology is an example of such a system already on the road.

Level 4 autonomous vehicles, however, are able to drive in almost every situation without the need for a human at the wheel, making them a considerably more advanced system than the level below.

To enable BAIC to produce such advanced cars, Baidu has announced the development of an in-house autonomous driving software project called ‘Apollo’.

This software most likely would make use of the company’s expertise as a leader in AI and machine learning, following a similar approach to the autonomous cars built by Google.

Apollo, named after the US mission to the moon, will reportedly compromise a complete operating system for cars, something which could be very lucrative for Baidu in the long term. The first version of it – Apollo 1.5 – has already been released.

Baidu reportedly hopes that by 2019 more than one million of BAIC’s vehicles will feature this Apollo technology.

“With the rise of artificial intelligence technology, the traditional manufacturing industry is facing unprecedented change. We need to have a more innovative and open spirit, and actively meet the future,” said BAIC Group Party Secretary, Chairman Xu Heyi

“We hope that through cooperation with Baidu, in autonomous driving, intelligent networks and the area of intelligent traffic, to find solutions to provide users with a better travel experience.”

This cooperation agreement between Baidu and BAIC follows a similar model to other arrangements in the West, where tech giants like Alphabet are working with established car manufacturers to build driverless cars, rather than build them in-house.