Baidu Announces Project Apollo And Opens Up Its Autonomous Driving Platform

摘要: Baidu will open up its technologies and programs on obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, and operating systems etc. and provide complete development tools. Baidu said it would form an alliance with the its most compatible and collaborative partners in the fields of automobile and sensors and recommend them to project participants, further lowering the research and development threshold for autonomous car and fostering the development of autonomous driving technology.

(Chinese Version)

On April 19th, Baidu announced a new project named Apollo, in honor of the moon-landing mission, offering its partners in autonomous driving and the car sector a complete, safe and open platform that helps them integrate hardware and software to set up their own autonomous driving system.

According to Baidu, project Apollo will provide a complete software, hardware, and service solution, which includes obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, and operating systems.

Baidu will open up its technologies and programs on obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, and operating systems etc. and provide complete development tools. Baidu said it would form an alliance with the its most compatible and collaborative partners in the fields of automobile and sensors and recommend them to project participants, further lowering the research and development threshold for autonomous car and fostering the development of autonomous driving technology.

Autonomous driving and AI have been one of Baidu’s main focuses in the recent two years. Here is the course of development of Baidu’s autonomous driving business in recent two years:

In 2015, Baidu started to invest massively in the research and development of autonomous driving technology.

In December 2015, Baidu tested fully autonomous drive in Beijing on highway lane and city roads.

In September 2016, Baidu was awarded a permit by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

In November 2016, Baidu ran a trial autonomous car operation in Wuzhen and made it open to the public to try it out. Several hundreds of journalists and guests, including journalists at TMTPost, had taken on a Baidu’s autonomous car and cruised around Wuzhen during the World Internet Conference.

Now we have the project Apollo. According to Baidu’s introduction, the Chinese search engine giant will first make its autonomous driving technology fitted for a closed environment accessible in July, and provides autonomous driving technology for urban situation with simple traffic condition later at the end of the year. The company’s fully autonomous driving technology, usable on both highway lanes and city roads, will be made accessible before 2020, said Baidu.

Looking at this series of moves, it seems that Baidu is attempting to benefit the whole human race. The truth is, even though Baidu is not the first company to share autonomous driving technologies, it is in fact the first tech giant in the field to share, as giants like Google and Tesla etc. are still guarding their technologies.

“China is the world's largest market for automotive sales and production. It has many car brands and an open environment that is ripe for collaboration,” Qi Lu, COO at Baidu, said, adding that opening up access to its autonomous driving platform will also foster innovation in the US and other developed markets. “Making Baidu’s autonomous technologies open will create more opportunities for innovation in the industry and further exploit the value brought about by our technologies. Apart from that, this will also stimulate the application of our technologies in the market, helping technologies to evolve, which will be an appealing chance to talents in this sector.”

Li Bin, founder and board chair of NEXTEV, raised his voice in support of Biadu, saying that the search engine giant possessed enough technological accumulation in autonomous driving and that Baidu’s AI, big data, and map would make great contribution to the autonomous driving industry.

However, the public is also worried about just how determined Baidu is in the autonomous sector.

In March this year, Baidu’s chief architect Wu Enda announced to resign from Baidu, who had been the leading figure in Baidu’s AI project. Before that, Wang Jin, Baidu’s senior vice president and general manager of level-four autonomous driving department, left for his own entrepreneurial journey in autonomous driving. In May 2015, Baidu’s autonomous driving project’s director and Baidu Institute of Deep Learning’s vice president Chang Yukai also left to start his own business. Former senior scientist at Baidu Institute of Deep Learning and director of Baidu’s autonomous car team Ni Kai left for LeEco’s autonomous project in late 2015 after taking Chang Yukai’s position.

These four people are considered as the four pillars of Baidu’s autonomous car project, all of whom have already left Baidu. A tech expert from BAIC MOTOR voiced out his concern during an interview: “They all left. Does Baidu still have enough R&D capacity to pull it through?”

Up till now, Lu Qi is the most reliable support of Baidu’s autonomous driving and AI projects. Caijing reported that Baidu is the only company in BAT(short for Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, the three leading tech companies in China) with a strong tech gene in its blood. Li Yanhong, Baidu’s founder, wants the company to become the Chinese Google, and therefore the company needs a clear goal and matching expansion strategy. That’s what Lu Qi is in Baidu for.

Currently, Baidu’s smart driving business is divided into two department, L3 and L4 departments in terms of the level of autonomous driving. The former provides L3 autonomous driving software service for car makers and first-tier manufacturers, while the latter is more revolutionary and focuses on developing L4 technologies.

Baidu is enhancing its investment in autonomous driving. On April 13th, Baidu announced to acquire xPerception, an American tech company that is dedicated to vision sensory software and hardware. CNBS commented that the acquisition would enhance Baidu’s power in the autonomous car, VR and AI sector. Many analysts at the Wall Streel showed a position attitude towards the acquisition and uplifted Baidu’s expected share price.

AI experts at IBM stated that Baidu is the only Chinese company that had made it into their competitiveness list.

At present, it remains unknown whether Chinese smart driving companies will make major leaps being supported by Baidu’s technologies and data.

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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @TMTPost, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Garrett Lee (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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