Baidu will mass produce autonomous vehicles in five years and is open to partnering with ride-sharing companies, a senior vice president of China’s largest search engine said at a Wall Street Journal conference Thursday.
Baidu wants to launch its self-driving cars in multiple countries at once, said senior vice president Wang Jing said at the Converge technology conference, noting that the market for driverless cars is big for both Baidu and U.S. rival Google (GOOG). Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving car project, has said the company wants to commercialize autonomous vehicles by 2020.
Baidu has also invested in ride-sharing company Uber.
The Chinese search engine is already testing its autonomous vehicle technology on public roads in Beijing and in China’s southeastern Anhui province.
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The Beijing-based search engine is likely tapping into its expertise in data mapping and artificial intelligence to develop self-driving car software. This means much of the work will likely come out of the company’s Silicon Valley office in Sunnyvale, Calif., which is led by artificial intelligence scientist Andrew Ng, the co-founder of online-learning company Coursera who conducted groundbreaking research at Stanford and helped create the Google Brain project.
Like Google, Baidu isn’t interested in making the actual car—just the software that drives it. The company already has commitments with Chinese car manufacturers to release its first driverless car.
It wasn’t that long ago when Baidu became more public about its plans for self-driving cars. In December, the company announced it had completed a fully autonomous test around a 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) route. Since then, the company has said it wants to introduce autonomous vehicles in 10 Chinese cities within three years. Baidu also has plans to have a self-driving shuttle on Chinese public roads by the end of 2018. The shuttle will initially have a limited route that will expand as progress is made. In March, Ng said Baidu wanted to start testing the cars in the U.S.
Jing’s statements about “mass producing” the vehicles within five years, is an escalation of the company’s ambitions.
Uber is testing self-driving cars in this city:
Baidu, Google, and the numerous other startups and automakers that are developing autonomous vehicles still face significant legal and regulatory hurdles, even if they perfect the technology. A patchwork of rules has developed in U.S. states, notably in California where numerous companies, including Daimler and Google, are testing self-driving car technology on public roads. In December 2015, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles issued draft rules in an effort to address the thorny questions involving autonomous vehicles around licensing, registration, certification, and safety—they even addressed cybersecurity and privacy. The draft rules include strict limits on the emerging technology—notably a ban on the use of fully autonomous cars that don’t have a steering wheel or a brake pedal, a position Google has said will place a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars.
While testing is rampant in California, those rules could push the actual deployment of self-driving taxis to other states or countries. China could be one such market.