Baidu Joins the Race to Get Self-Driving Vehicles on the Road

Baidu, a Chinese company best known for its Internet search engine, has entered the competition with other Internet companies and automobile manufacturers to create an autonomous vehicle. The company has already invested heavily in artificial intelligence and developed software called the Baidu AutoBrain System, which automatically records 3D road data and recognizes objects and road lanes. This expertise may help Baidu gain an edge over Google, General Motors, Tesla and Ford.

Some of Baidu’s competitors have been working on autonomous car technology since 2009, so the Chinese company has a lot of catching up to do.

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“Chinese Internet companies like Baidu, flush with cash and confidence, are jostling for leadership in the holy trinity of the auto industry’s future: electrics, car sharing and — autonomous cars,” said Michael Dunne, president of Dunne Automotive in Hong Kong, reports Bloomberg. “Google enjoys a huge lead in autonomy today. But don’t underestimate the Chinese will to compete.”

The Boston Consulting Group estimates that urban autopilot vehicles will debut in 2022, with fully autonomous cars following three years after that. However, Baidu plans to put self-driving cars on the road in 10 Chinese cities within three years. The company is already talking to city officials and says it will be ready to demo the autonomous car at conferences this year.

Baidu is betting that its investments in deep learning will be a key part of their success against competitors. The company hired a renowned machine learning and robotics expert, Andrew Ng. Baidu is working with BYD, a Chinese electric car maker, to deploy the Baidu AutoBrain system. The AI, along with the advanced object recognition technology, allows the car to detect other vehicles accurately and follow them at a safe distance and speed.

When the self-driving car does become a reality, Baidu may have a huge new source of revenue. The Chinese transportation market is worth more than $1.5 trillion per year and vehicle sales have tripled in the past decade. Even Chinese President Xi Jinping recognizes this opportunity for growth and attended a talk from Baidu CEO Robin Li.