Mon, Jun 15, 2015 - Page 14 News List

Baidu to release self-driving vehicle

The Guardian

Baidu Inc (百度) — the search engine and technology company often called China’s Google — plans to release a self-driving car with BMW Corp by the end of the year.

The Chinese firm has been working on autonomous vehicles for the past couple of years, recently partnering with automakers, including BMW.

The two companies announced a self-driving research project in April last year, driving test cars around the complex highways of Beijing and Shanghai.

Baidu’s senior vice president Wang Jin (王勁) told the China cloud computing services summit that the company would launch a new self-driving car with BMW in China before the year is out.

The prototype car is to be used to test road-readiness of Baidu’s technology, which is to involve the car driving itself, but still have human controls.

Google unveiled a new series of prototype vehicles built from the ground up to be self-driving cars, having previously modified Lexus sport utility vehicles and Toyota hybrid cars for testing purposes.

Its new car aims to completely replace human control with artificial intelligence, reducing controls to a destination selector and a start/stop button. A version with a human driver is to be tested on public roads in the near future.

Baidu is taking a more traditional route to the self-driving car. Its head of deep learning, Kai Yu (余凱), said last year that the technology it was developing was designed to assist drivers rather than replace them.

The Chinese firm has its own data-mapping service, which is a prerequisite to any automotive robotics project and invested US$10 million in a Finnish mapping start-up IndoorAtlas in September last year.

It also has undertaken extensive artificial intelligence research, including machine learning and the technologies needed for computer vision for cars and other robotics, rivaling those of Google.

However, Baidu has one major advantage over its US rivals: Many of the driving-assisted vehicles on the road today, including Tesla Motors Inc’s Model S, are technically capable of driving themselves.

While the technology has yet to be proven, the major hurdle to autonomous vehicles on public roads is legislation.

China and Baidu could steal a march on the West through flexible legislation. The Chinese government has more power to rapidly mandate the kind of wholesale changes that would be required to unleash self-driving cars.

There is still some debate over in what form self-driving cars will emerge. Automotive manufacturers are working on their own technology with the clear ambition of selling a traditional car that can drive itself — something Baidu seems to agree with.

Others are working on autonomous vehicles that could be seen as pool cars or a form of public transport, with driver-less vehicles operating as shuttles or bus replacements.

While Google's self-driving pods resemble the latter, Uber Technologies Inc, for instance, is working on autonomous vehicles with the aim of running a taxi service that do not require human drivers.

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