Baidu has decided to share its autonomous driving technology with companies keen to design such vehicles. Further, the company will assist with sourcing components and hardware. The major services that the Chinese company will offer are vehicle platform, software platform, cloud data and hardware platform.

Baidu self-driving
noelsch / Pixabay

Opening up tech will foster innovation

So far, automakers and tech companies have been working on self-driving cars independently or in close-knit alliances. Many companies around the world have been making aggressive investment and improvements in the self-driving field, and some of the biggest names have started including driverless technology into their own vehicles. Now Baidu is aiming at a common platform, but its success will be determined by how many partners come together and sign on to projects.

An “open, innovative industry ecosystem initiated by Baidu will accelerate the development of autonomous driving in the U.S. and other developed automotive markets,” said Qi Lu, the former Microsoft executive appointed last month as Baidu’s chief operating officer to push artificial intelligence aggressively.

On Tuesday, the company said it is planning to launch its autonomous driving technology in a restricted environment in July before launching fully autonomous driving vehicles on highways and city roads by 2020. Baidu has named the project Apollo following the lunar landing program, stating that it would work in close collaboration with partners to offer vehicle sensors and other components for the new technology.

Anning Chen, general manager of leading Chinese automobile manufacturer Chery, stated that autonomous driving technology has a very high entry barrier, and Baidu’s opening of its platform to others is a welcome effort. Further, Chen said the cooperation between tech companies and automakers in autonomous driving will eventually lead to better innovation and allow automakers create their own competitive edge.

Baidu invests big in AI and self-driving tech

When it comes to artificial intelligence, Baidu has an edge over other Chinese tech companies. The company has frequently been compared with IBM and Google in the field, notes the Financial Times. Although the company suffered a setback when Andrew Ng, its chief scientist and AI guru, left last month, its focus and investment in artificial intelligence have not deviated.

Baidu also launched a $200 million fund in October to work towards artificial intelligence, AR and deep learning and a $3 billion fund was set aside in September to target mid- and late-stage start-ups, notes Reuters.

“AI has great potential to drive social development, and one of AI’s biggest opportunities is intelligent vehicles,” said Qi Lu.

Since 2015, Baidu has invested aggressively in self-driving technology. In December 2015, the company successfully conducted road tests for its self-driving cars in Beijing. After the road test, the company got an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit for California in September 2016, and thereafter, it conducted open trial operations of its autonomous vehicle in November 2016 at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, where over 200 guests were able to take the cars for a ride.