Baidu tests autonomous car, emerging as potential rival to Google and others

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Baidu joins race to build autonomous cars.

BEIJING — Chinese internet search giant Baidu is joining the race to develop autonomous cars, and planning to field its first such vehicles in China within three years. Baidu Inc’s (百度) autonomous car ambitions keep revving along, with the Chinese search engine on Wednesday announcing that a prototype vehicle has completed tests on a route with varied roads and environmental conditions.China’s Baidu this week announced that its self-driving car—a modified BMW 3 Series—successfully completed testing on mixed roads under various environmental conditions. Wang Jing, a Baidu senior vice-president, told The Wall Street Journal that the company is setting up a new business unit that will work on developing autonomous vehicles for use as public shuttles. The company announced plans to develop a driverless car last year, following in the footsteps of Google, which has been testing autonomous cars for a number of years.

The 19-mile test drive route began at Baidu’s Beijing headquarters and covered the G7 highway, Fifth Ring Road, and Olympic Park, before looping back to the starting point. “Fully autonomous driving under mixed road conditions is universally challenging, with complexity further heightened by Beijing’s road conditions and unpredictable driver behavior,” Wang Jing, senior vice president of Baidu and general manager of Baidu’s new Autonomous Driving Business Unit, said in a statement. In June, Google said its fleet of self-driving cars had completed 1 million miles on the road and successfully navigated over 600,000 sets of traffic lights. Baidu hopes to develop vehicles that are “fully autonomous over a limited number of routes,” head scientist Andrew Ng (吳恩達) said in an interview. Technology heavyweights from Alphabet’s Google to Samsung Electronics and car makers from Toyota to Tesla are competing to develop components and technology for self-driving and internet-connected cars. According to a report by CBInsights in September, at least another 25 companies are now working on driverless car projects including Apple, Tesla, Audi, Daimler, Ford and China’s SAIC Motor and Yutong, which deals mostly in buses and coaches.

It managed right and left turns, deceleration when approaching vehicles, changing lanes, passing other cars, and merging into traffic, at a peak speed of 62mph. Baidu’s autonomous driving project has been led by the company’s Institute of Deep Learning since 2013, which has developed a series of autonomous driving technologies under Baidu AutoBrain. Baidu has invested heavily in deep-learning, a branch of machine learning and artificial intelligence that not only powers its autonomous vehicle project but also its search, advertising, and speech- and image -recognition technologies. In September, Google hired a vehicle-industry veteran to run its project, which started in 2009, and it is now tackling more complicated manoeuvres such as making right turns at stop lights. Baidu AutoBrain technology includes smart decision-making, detection and highly automated driving maps that record 3D road data to within a few centimetres of accuracy.

Like Google, Baidu has big ambitions to use its mapping data and “deep-learning” technology — in which computers simulate the brain in learning from massive amounts of data — to expand its scope well beyond online search. Reuters on Wednesday reported that the smartphone maker will develop automotive components for use with in-car entertainment, satellite navigation, and autonomous driving.

The company last year hired Stanford researcher Andrew Ng, who also helped set up Google’s artificial-intelligence effort, to head its research centre in Sunnyvale, California. Baidu’s plan calls for its future vehicles to operate on fixed routes or within set urban areas. “We will co-operate with some governments to provide shared vehicles like a shuttle service; it could be a car or van, but for public use,” Mr Wang said. In April, Boston Consulting Group cautioned that self-driving cars likely won’t hit the road until 2025, but autonomous vehicles could appear sooner in more controlled situations such as automated ride-sharing services in city centres.

In China, bus maker Zhengzhou Yutong Bus in September said its prototype self-driving bus completed a 33km drive on an intercity road in central China and was able to change lanes, pass other vehicles and respond to traffic lights. Still, Baidu is well behind Google, whose 50-plus self-driving cars have covered more than a million miles and are currently being tested on public roads in urban areas of California and in Austin, Texas.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that 261,000 people died on China’s roads in 2013, compared with a bit more than 32,000 a year in the US.

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