Baidu Inc. seems to be advancing its stake in the autonomous driving segment, with the company's chief executive officer and chairman, Robin Li, announcing that the Chinese search giant is planning to deploy a self-driving bus at its home country in 2018. According to a new report by The Wall Street Journal, Baidu is relying on Apollo, the company's open-source software for autonomous vehicle that uses artificial intelligence (AI), for that goal.
The Apollo program is part of a wider effort by the Chinese internet giant to complete the deployment of autonomous vehicles by 2020. Under the self-driving effort, Baidu intends to collaborate with other companies which will be responsible for the specific components of the initiative such as the vehicles and sensors, among others. In 2018, the company said it plans to work with a Chinese bus manufacturer to build a fully self-driving bus that can navigate a predetermined route all by itself. When it comes to how Apollo is different from other AI-based software used by other major autonomous driving players, Li explained that Baidu's open-source software provides extensive control over how users manage their data and experience riding an autonomous vehicle controlled by Apollo. It remains unclear, however, how Baidu plans to generate revenue from Apollo since the software is open source. Nevertheless, the company's CEO is looking to other business opportunities such as selling map or simulation technologies, among others, as it is unlikely that the Chinese company can ever sell the open-source software.
Over the long term, Baidu aims to become a major player in the autonomous vehicle category, with huge investments such as the recently announced $1.52 billion funding for the Apollo program in a bid to advance AI solutions that form part of the company's broader goal to compete with Waymo, Tesla, and Uber in this emerging market. The fund will be allocated to 100 autonomous driving projects over the next three years. Baidu also previously formed a partnership with NVIDIA to develop AI-powered technology for various segments including smart cloud computing, self-driving cars, and digital home assistants that all rely on artificial intelligence. In addition to the autonomous bus planned for rollout next year, Baidu also wants to start manufacturing Apollo-based semi-autonomous cars by 2019 and fully autonomous cars by 2021.