Thu, Jul 05, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Baidu to roll out self-driving buses for enclosed spaces

AFP, BEIJING

An Apolong self-driving mini bus by Baidu and Golden Dragon Bus Co is exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show Asia in Shanghai, China, on June 13.

Photo: AFP

Chinese Internet giant Baidu Inc (百度) yesterday announced that it had begun mass producing the country’s first autonomous mini-bus, as the firm prepares to roll them out in tourist spots and airports.

Chief executive officer Robin Li (李彥宏) watched the 100th vehicle roll off a production line of a factory in the southeastern city of Xiamen.

This year “marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving. From the mass production of Apolong, we can truly see that autonomous driving is making great strides — taking the industry from zero to one,” Li said.

The 14-seater Apolong, about one-third of the size of a normal bus, has no steering wheel, driver’s seat, accelerator or brake.

Coproduced by Baidu and Chinese bus manufacturer Golden Dragon Bus Co (金龍客車), they are soon to be pressed into commercial use in enclosed areas such as tourist areas and airports in several cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and the country’s new megacity Xiong’an.

Early next year, they are set to enter Japan’s self-driving market as shuttle buses at nuclear power stations or to ferry around elderly people in local communities in Tokyo.

The vehicles have the “fourth level” of automation as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, meaning that they can operation within an enclosed location without human intervention.

This is one short of the highest level, where vehicles can operate anywhere on the road.

“I took a self-driving car to come to the developer conference last year, and ended up getting a ticket at [Beijing’s] fifth ring road,” Li said.

Often referred to as China’s Google, Baidu operates the country’s leading search engine and also invests heavily in services ranging from online payments to connected devices and artificial intelligence.

“In the past, China exported cheap commodities to the world. In the future, China will export AI [artificial intelligence] technology to the world,” Li said at the firm’s annual AI developer conference.

At the conference, he also announced a new AI chip called Kunlun, which can support a wide range of AI applications including voice recognition, natural language processing and autonomous driving.

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