|The Chinese Plan to Take Over All Self-Driving Cars |
Baidu is opening up its self-driving car technology, a revolutionary approach to one of the most important efforts to commercialize AI.
by Will Knight July 5, 2017
One of Baidu’s experimental self-driving cars.
The CEO of Baidu, Robin Li, arrived at his company’s first AI developer conference, held in Beijing this week, in a vehicle that has the potential to reshape the world of self-driving cars.
The vehicle was controlled using software that Baidu ( 50 Smartest Companies 2017) plans to offer for free in the coming years through a project called Apollo. By making the brains of a self-driving car available to anyone, the Apollo project could help China’s many young carmakers get up to speed rapidly.
It also reflects China’s broader ambition to establish itself as a leading hub of artificial intelligence. Baidu’s move of making its training data openly available marks a significant departure in the field of commercial AI, where the information used to train sophisticated algorithms is typically guarded with obsessive jealousy.
This fits with the Chinese government’s desire to see its nascent AI industry become increasingly competitive, and to see the underlying technology feed into its planning for the future, including the design of new cities. Indeed, if the Apollo effort gains momentum, it may make it harder for any of the companies protecting their own code to dominate the automated driving field.
“Apollo is an important milestone for the automotive industry,” Qi Lu, vice chairman of Baidu, told conference attendees. “It is in essence the Android of the autonomous driving industry, but more open and more powerful.”
The time line for developing autonomous cars using the technology is ambitious. The goal is to begin testing Apollo vehicles on restricted areas later this month and to have fully autonomous driving on urban roads and highways by the end of 2020.
The Apollo platform certainly seems to be effective for bootstrapping the development of self-driving vehicles. At the event in Beijing, a California-based startup called AutonomousStuff demonstrated a Lincoln that it turned into a rudimentary self-driving car using the Apollo technology in just three days.
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