Baidu and Nvidia to Build Artificial Intelligence Platform for Self-Driving Cars

Courtesy of Nvidia

Chinese search engine Baidu and chipmaker Nvidia announced a partnership Thursday that will focus on using artificial intelligence to develop a computing platform for self-driving cars. The platform will include cloud-based high-definition maps.

The announcement, made by Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang at the Baidu World Conference, will bring together two companies that see vast potential in artificial intelligence. It also comes on the heels of Baidu receiving approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicle to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state. Baidu (BIDU) is the 15th company to receive a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California.

“We’re going to bring together the technical capabilities and the expertise in AI and the scale of two world-class AI companies to build the self-driving car architecture from end-to-end, from top-to-bottom, from the cloud to the car,” Huang said.

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This platform will be used by Baidu to offer self-driving taxi services in China, though it could be adopted by other companies. Baidu and Nvidia (NVDA) are making this an open platform to encourage major automakers to use it to deploy their own autonomous vehicles.

Nvidia’s existing architecture for self-driving cars involves three components: an AI supercomputer called Drive PX that’s powerful enough to process data coming in from the vehicle’s cameras and sensors; an AI algorithm-based operating system; and a cloud-based high-definition 3D map that constantly updates.

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Nvidia introduced Drive PX two years ago at CES, an annual consumer electronics show held every January in Las Vegas. One year later, Huang introduced a more powerful next generation computer—called Drive PX 2—as well as a suite of software tools and libraries aimed at accelerating the deployment of self-driving vehicles. Volvo is using the Drive PX 2 computer in a fleet of a self-driving test vehicles.

Meanwhile, Baidu has been doing its own work on deploying self-driving cars in China. The company announced in December 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.


In June, a senior Baidu executive said the company will mass produce autonomous vehicles in five years and is open to partnering with ride-sharing companies. The plan is to launch its self-driving cars in multiple countries at once, senior vice president Wang Jing said at the Converge technology conference in June.

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Baidu also has considerable expertise in data mapping and artificial intelligence—both of which are used to develop self-driving car software. Much of that work is done at 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.

Baidu has also made a number of investments related to self-driving cars, including a $75 million injection of capital into Velodyne LiDAR, the leading supplier of technology that lets self-driving cars see and avoid what’s around them. Ford also invested $75 million in Velodyne.

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