Baidu and Shouqi Limousine & Chauffeur, a subsidiary of state-owned Shouqi group, have signed an agreement to advance the autonomous driving push of both companies, recent reports indicate. Under the partnership, the Chinese internet giant will provide the necessary resources for building driverless vehicles, including the Baidu Map service, as well as software and hardware tools such as the DuerOS for developing artificial intelligence (AI)-based devices that can interact with real people through voice and the Apollo platform for aiding self-driving vehicles in navigating the roads with the use of AI. In return, Shouqi will supply high-precision maps to Baidu to help the search engine company accelerate the development of its self-driving cars.
Baidu began testing a self-driving vehicle as early as 2015, with the autonomous vehicle having covered a distance of 18.6 miles throughout Beijing. Its most recent financing move in this category comes in the form of a $1.52 billion funding for its autonomous driving effort, announced in September of this year. Baidu's focus on self-driving vehicles is part of broader goal to diversify its revenue streams after its advertising business began to dwindle last year, and the recently announced investment marks the company's initial move to fund at least 100 autonomous driving projects over the next three years under the Apollo Fund program. In addition to self-driving cars, Baidu's chief executive officer and chairman, Robin Li, also announced earlier this month that the company plans to deploy a self-driving bus in China in 2018 with the help of the Apollo open-source software as part of its effort to deepen its stake in the autonomous driving segment.
The main goal of the Apollo program is to complete the deployment of autonomous vehicles by 2020 in collaboration with other companies which will supply the specific components for self-driving vehicles such as the vehicles, sensors, and software solutions, among others. With the newly inked alliance with Shouqi Limousine & Chauffeur, Baidu is fast-tracking its self-driving push as it now has the necessary resources to let its driverless vehicles seamlessly navigate public roads and highways with the help of mapping resources from Shouqi. It remains to be seen what will happen.