Potentially in an effort to arrive ahead of the anticipated Apple Car release date, Baidu Inc., Chinese tech giant, plans to begin testing autonomous vehicles in the United States. The company hopes to have a vehicle available in the U.S. as soon as 2018.
Baidu is a 16-year-old company and has been coined the “Google of China”. The company has a location in Sunnyvale, CA, near the Apple Car locations, that is said to have 160 employees working on the autonomous car project. The Silicon Valley office is led by Baidu head scientist Andrew Ng. Ng is working in cooperation with the U.S. government to move the project forward quickly.
Back in 2014, Baidu announced a possible partnership with BMW to launch a car by the end of 2015. Although that hasn’t happened, the company did complete a first driverless test using a modified BMW 3-series on a 19-mile course. Baidu has shifted its focus to driver-assistance rather than full autonomy, likely to advance the timeline. However, it has been reported that there are also plans of full autonomy by 2018 in China, using the technology on buses or shuttles in a closed loop.
Prior to the recent Senate hearing, Ng made his own recommendations. He explained that mobile apps for boosting communication would be key. Construction crews could get detour information to the vehicles. Police officers could use an app to direct traffic.
It is already evident that the autonomous vehicles of today can handle many situations, but there is still a long way to go. Ng admits:
“The (artificial intelligence) is good enough where the changes to infrastructure are modest. Maybe in the distant future, we could make it drive like a human driver, but not in two years.”
Perhaps two years is too soon. By the release of the Apple Car, 3-5 years from now, this technology will have grown by leaps and bounds. Now that the Senate is involved, and more companies are moving into Silicon Valley and joint development agreements are growing exponentially, it is only a matter of time.