Chinese tech company Baidu may be best known for its internet search engine, but it's much more than just a search company. While the single largest revenue source for the company remains advertising from its search operations, the tech giant has ventured into a number of different and seemingly non-connected streams of technology, in an effort to branch out and diversify, much like its American counterpart, Google. No wonder then that the company is often referred to globally as the 'Chinese Google' or the 'Google of China'. While the autonomous vehicle project from Google is the most anticipated, well-known and heavily-discussed self-driving car technology globally, Baidu has also quietly been developing its own technology that would allow automobiles to drive themselves without the need for human intervention.
Now, after over two years of research in its deep-learning research lab, the largest provider of internet search services in China has officially announced that its autonomous vehicle has traversed a distance of 18.6-miles throughout the country's capital city of Beijing. The car, a modified BMW 3-series compact sedan, has reportedly rolled-on throughout the length and breadth of the city, passing through congested city streets with full traffic, without any major incident. While Google's modified Lexus RX450h SUVs also underwent extensive testing over the past several months, having driven around for as much as 1.7 million miles in total, some reports claim the Baidu may actually be closer to launching a fully autonomous vehicle than Google.
It is worth mentioning that back in June, Baidu and German luxury auto-maker BMW had claimed an end-2015 launch date for their self-driving car. Now that it's obvious that's not going to happen, there's no update on when the Chinese tech giant will actually be ready to finally rollout a fully autonomous vehicle. It is however, becoming increasingly evident that barring something drastic, the day when such vehicles will be available at a showroom near you may not be that far off. As for Baidu, the company claims that its approach would be to "advance incrementally through different environments, rather than through different levels of driving autonomy", according to a report published by Wired. Meaning, the vehicles will not be traveling anywhere and everywhere autonomously, but only on a pre-programmed route to begin with.
The benefits of this approach, according to the Chinese tech company, is that with pre-loaded info about the exact location of permanent obstacles and traffic signs, the vehicle will not have to spend its precious computing power on any of that, and will rather be able to concentrate on the road ahead, hence making the journey safer for not just the occupants of the autonomous car, but also for other road users. Baidu believes it is pretty close to achieving that goal thanks to the detailed maps the company is drawing up. According to the company, "within five to ten years, the majority of China's roadways could be mapped" in a way that it would be possible for the company to pre-program such comprehensive information onto its self-driving automobiles, making them safer and more reliable than what is possible right now.