Baidu Brain brings Baidu / BMW first self-drving car prototype on the roads
Chinese search company Baidu is working on a self-driving car in partnership with BMW, and it could easily surpass Google since Baidu plans to launch its driverless vehicle within the second half of this year.
Baidu senior vice president Jin Wang himself made the announcement at the China Cloud Computing conference but declined to provide further details, according to The Guardian. Unlike Google's futuristic-looking autonomous pods, Baidu is more likely to develop a traditional car that is equipped with self-driving capabilities but can still be controlled by the driver.
Last year, Baidu head of deep learning Kai Yu told the technology press that Baidu does not agree with Google's vision of relinquishing all control of the vehicle to a computer. Instead, Baidu's self-driving technology will be more of an assistant that can take over if the driver wants to take a rest from driving.
To achieve its goal, Baidu has made investments in data mapping services, including a $10 million acquisition of Finnish mapping technology startup IndoorAtlas, whose technology was used to enhance the accuracy of Baidu Maps. Baidu is also developing Baidu Brain, an artificial intelligence tool that Baidu says can simulate human thinking with more than 20 billion parameters.
Google is currently in the process of testing its own self-driving cars in a number of public roads in Mountain View, with only 13 minor accidents reported during Google's six years of testing. However, while the technology used for autonomous vehicles is moving forward, Google faces several legal restrictions surrounding the testing and use of self-driving cars.
Key questions center on complex issues, such as who is to blame in the event of an accident or what an autonomous car should do during emergencies. Moreover, traffic safety authorities are still formulating new safety requirements regarding the use of such vehicles.
Meanwhile, Baidu could go ahead and overtake Google in launching self-driving cars. While Google estimates the first driverless cars made for mass production could hit American roads by 2017, Baidu is eyeing just half a year from now as its target date, which is entirely possible given how the Chinese government has more power and flexibility in making legal changes to allow the production of driverless cars.
Other companies have begun working on their own semi-autonomous vehicles. Tesla, for instance, says its own Model S will be equipped with autopilot features, while Daimler AG unveiled a new car concept where the driver's seat can swivel around and face the passengers once the car is placed in autonomous mode.
BMW has a lot to offer as well as it already has many of the pieces toward autonomy built into its vehicles. Many of the current models offer self-parking, adaptive cruise control, and lane assist, which are all a step towards fully autonomous operation. The new 2016 7-Series that was revealed last week goes a step further by monitoring speed limit signs using cameras and using them to keep the car in line with the posted limit. The car will also offer a remote self-parking feature that will allow the driver to park the car by pressing a button on the key fob—even when he or she is outside the vehicle.