Tesla CEO Elon Musk shook up the tech, energy, and auto industries this week by revealing an ambitious roadmap for his company’s future. One of his most audacious plans would convert self-driving cars into autonomous Uber rides, so to speak, that can haul people around town when their owners aren’t using them.
It’s a wild idea, for sure. But Musk isn’t the only one dreaming of turning people’s cars into self-driving taxis when they aren’t otherwise in use.
Andrew Ng, the head of artificial intelligence for Chinese search giant Baidu, told Fortune that several big auto makers as well as AI researchers have been brainstorming this idea for a while. Ng said he recently chatted with a CEO of one of the leading automotive suppliers that is trying to help carmakers achieve this vision, but he wouldn’t name names.
Like Google (GOOG), Baidu has big plans for self-driving cars. In June, it said that it planned to roll the cars out by 2021, although it doesn’t want to become an automobile manufacturer. Rather, it wants to build the software brains that power the vehicles and let others handle the dirty business of building the cars. Baidu is an investor in Uber, by the way.
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Just because companies are discussing plans to turn your car into a taxi, don’t expect it to become reality anytime soon. Aside from technology improvements, Ng believes much work remains to improve city infrastructure so that it can communicate with autonomous vehicles for safe navigation.
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In other words, self-driving cars can’t do it all on their own. “I think a couple years would be a very aggressive timeline,” Ng said.