What will the next big tech breakthrough be, artificial intelligence, a cure for cancer, nuclear fusion, or autonomous cars? Of the four we believe the latter will be the next big breakthrough. What with well-known companies all over the world now competing to be the first, 2018, could be the year we first see a personal self-driving car hit the road.
Baidu to make Autonomous Cars publicly available first
Well, that is if you believe the Chinese search giant Baidu, it has just announced the launch of its Apollo fund. A $1.5-Billion (10 Billion Yuan) project that aims to get cars that drive themselves on the road soon.
Created jointly with the Yangtze River Industry Fund, it is intended to inject money into more than 100-car projects over the next three years. Apollo named after the U.S based moon missions is also the latest version of Baidu’s open-source autonomous vehicle software.
An on the Road target of 2018
While other companies such as Alphabet’s Waymo continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. Baidu has its sights set on becoming the Android of the motor industry. How?
As its Apollo software is open-source, it has been able to license it for use by other manufacturers and developers. Which in turn means, it has struck partnership deals with companies such as Hyundai Motor, Momenta, iDriver and more. Overall, right now, it has 70-partners across the world, with up to 100-expected by mid-2018. This means the Chinese firm has and continues to strike deals with Apollo-partners for mass production and future development.
What’s New with Apollo?
Baidu now sees its autonomous cars project as the future, no longer a search only giant it aims to take on Google and Tesla. However, to do that it has recognized that continued investment and the attracting of skilled engineers/developers is required.
With the latest update, Apollo now features improved driving capabilities in designated lanes and obstacle recognition. That is possible thanks to the assistance of Nvidia Corp with microprocessors, and TomTom with its mapping service.
While Baidu has the means to be the first company to produce fully autonomous cars, it faces stiff competition. As such it now seems even more likely that this tech will step-out of science fiction into reality very soon.
Who is the competition?
The German company is working on a so-called ‘cruising Chauffeur’ due to be ready for production in 2020. This feature will take over the responsibility of driving while on highways. It will also instruct a driver to take back control when leaving the highway.
Continental began testing autonomous cars back in 2012, and now has a fleet of test vehicles in China, Japan, and the U.S.A.
Renault Nissan and Mitsubishi Alliance
One group of well-known manufacturers have formed an alliance to share technologies. Known as the Renault Nissan and Mitsubishi Alliance, it plans to launch more than 40 autonomous cars by 2020, with each having a different level of self-driving capability.
These capabilities could include, self-parking, motorway cruising, eyes-off, or even a lack of Human input altogether. Furthermore, of the three involved Renault is also looking to partner with a Chinese company to increase its presence in that market. Maybe it could become an Apollo partner at some point soon?
Baidu is not the only company with Autonomous cars on its mind in China. JingChip Corp, formed by Baidu’s former head of autonomous driving, also aims to produce self-driving vehicles for China’s roads.
It recently completed a round of investment which saw it raise US$52-million from investors that includes Nvidia GPU ventures. JingChi recently signed an agreement with An Qing City, in Anhui province. The deal allows it to test 50-autonomous vehicles around the city this year.
However, the competition for Baidu will be self-driving taxis, which JingChi says it will have hundreds working in 2018. It’s entirely possible, that this little start-up, with 50-employees, could usurp its larger counterpart, especially if its hailing service succeeds!
Baidu and its open-source Apollo plan may be the key to the future of autonomous cars. Why? Because with one company investing heavily in something that is proven to work. Others, many of which are Apollo partners gain access to proven self-driving technologies and can concentrate on hardware.
This approach means that Baidu, although it may not make vehicles of its own, is the glue that holds its network/partners together. Which is something that fits into China’s broader ambition to be the leader in auto-and general A.I in the near future. The problem for those outside of this is, in keeping their technology proprietary, it could be harder for them to dominate the market.