The stigma around self-driving technologies is steadily normalizing and Baidu is looking to contribute to an expedited development of autonomous vehicles by everyone in the industry. With regards to the same, the Chinese search giant has today announced the launch of Project Apollo, an open-source self-driving platform that includes both software and hardware tools.
Much like every other global technology and automotive giant, Baidu is also developing its own AI and self-driving capabilities out of research centers in Silicon Valley and back at home in China. With Project Apollo, whose name has been borrowed from the ground-breaking lunar landing program, Baidu believes its self-driving technologies have the potential of transforming the future of mobility. Project Apollo is aimed at providing a robust and complete set of handy hardware/software tools to the swiftly evolving auto industry.
The company will release the first iteration of this solution, which includes a vehicle platform, hardware platform, software platform and cloud data services, in July later this year. According to an official press statement, the search giant will open-source its tools for obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, vehicle operating systems and other testing functions. It is planning to test its own autonomous vehicles using this technology on urban public roads this very year — most likely in California and China.
Talking about this initiative, Qi Lu, the former Microsoft exec who joined Baidu as Group President and Chief Operating Officer said:
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. Baidu took the initiative to open our autonomous driving technology to the industry in order to encourage greater innovation and opportunities, making better use of our technology to drive the evolution of the entire industry.
Further, Baidu is not only open-sourcing its self-driving technology platform but is also starting a partnership program to collaborate with automobile giants and industry leaders. This will enable the search giant to closely work with those employing its Project Apollo platform, providing them with the best and most compatible vehicles, sensors, and other components.
The addition of several automotive partners to their self-driving program will provide Baidu with more data for building the software platform. It also enables the search giant to come head to head with other self-driving players such as Tesla, Ford, Alphabet’s Waymo (embroiled in legal battle with Uber) and others.
Baidu believes this will elevate the level of cooperation and reduce barriers to entry into this segment of autonomous mobility. Baidu has already partnered with Chinese vehicle makers such as BAIC Motor, BYD, and Chery, post its two-year long strategic alliance with BMW came to an unexpected halt. It has also joined hands with graphics giant Nvidia to develop the software and handle processing power for its AI, as well as computer vision algorithms.
The Project Apollo platform launched this July will particularly be applicable for restricted environments, but Baidu plans to launch improved iterations of the same by end of this year. It will enable other automakers to test completely self-driving cars (most likely a Level 4) on public roads but complete autonomy (Level 5, no human oversight required) will only be launched in the coming two odd years. It will introduce these capabilities on highways and open city roads over time by 2020.