Baidu, arguably China’s answer to Google, has announced an ambitious plan to put self-driving buses on the road by 2018, entering mass production by 2020. It seems that Baidu have seen Google’s plans to have self-driving cars and are upping the scale. The news comes along with the announcement that Baidu has set up a business unit in order to oversee its automobile efforts, which will be managed by Baidu’s Senior Vice President, Wang Jing. This initiative is in partnership with BMW in order to develop an autonomous passenger vehicle, but a Baidu spokesman was unwilling to divulge other partners or potential partners from the automobile industry associated with the bus project. Baidu has also declined to quantify how much of an investment the automobile project will be.
We have seen a number of companies announcing plans to put self driving vehicles on the road, including of course Google, but also Apple and recently, Samsung. In the Chinese market, Alibaba Group Holding is planning to launch the first autonomous car in partnership with SAIC Motor Corp, a Chinese auto manufacturer. The technology has rapidly become another battleground for the world’s technology companies, many of whom are working in conjunction with a consortium of auto manufacturing companies. There are many technological challenges associated with designing and building an autonomous car, such as the necessary sensor packages and programming, but the bigger challenge is expected to be legislative: how does the Law consider a autonomous car? We have already seen Google experiencing minor bumps and a ticket for driving too slowly, but the Law will almost certainly require an overhaul for those areas where it could be argued that a driverless car is responsible for a collision or fatality. In theory, our roads will be safer without the emotion of human drivers. Average speeds could be potentially increased and should car and software designers implement various technologies, it is possible that we could see long streams of vehicles braking and accelerating as one, which could reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Nevertheless, we are still some way from seeing affordable autonomous cars on the roads for technological or legal reasons, but it is good to see at least one technology company considering larger vehicles as ideal recipients for driverless technology. Baidu’s project is certainly ambitious will be one worth keeping an eye on.