Baidu to share autonomous vehicle technology

The Chinese company plans to open-source code in a number of areas relating to self-driving vehicles

Hoping to get self-driving vehicle companies to share a common platform rather than design from scratch, Baidu said Tuesday it would offer its technology for autonomous driving to other companies, while also partnering in the sourcing of components and hardware.

Baidu will offer a vehicle platform, hardware platform, software platform and cloud data services, and will open source code and capabilities in obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, vehicle operating systems and other functions, as well as a set of testing tools, it said in a statement.

The project called Apollo, after the U.S. moon missions, could help speed up the development of self-driving cars, making the technology available sooner to smaller car makers and users at a more competitive price.

Until now car makers and tech companies have been pursuing the development of self-driving cars independently or in close-knit alliances, guarding their inventions protectively as the ongoing lawsuit between Alphabet's Waymo and Uber Technologies indicates.

“An open, innovative industry ecosystem initiated by Baidu will accelerate the development of autonomous driving in the U.S. and other developed automotive markets,” said Qi Lu, Baidu’s group president and chief operating officer in a statement.

Baidu’s bid to create a standard platform will depend largely on how many partners sign on to the project.

“What strikes me at first is the lack of any partners that have signed on. Open sourcing something is interesting, but only if other people join you,” said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. This is the challenge that currently faces Intel and BMW, who are trying to create an open platform for self driving cars, he added.

In July last year, BMW, Intel and Mobileye said that they would work together to arrive at an industry standard and define an open platform for autonomous driving.

Baidu has been testing its autonomous cars both in China and in the U.S. In 2015, it said it had tested a fully autonomous car in Beijing on a route that had mixed roads in a variety of environmental conditions. The company also received permission last year from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test its cars in the state, and tied with Nvidia for the development of a self-driving platform for companies in China and abroad.

Baidu plans to first open its autonomous driving technology for restricted environments in July and will later share its technology for cars running autonomously in simple urban road conditions towards the end of the year. It plans to introduce fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads over time by 2020.

It wasn’t immediately clear which areas of self-driving technology Baidu will continue to control over time. The company did not also disclose what was its revenue stream from the project. “How they make money is unclear but like Google with TensorFlow, I believe it's to get everyone building on their AI frameworks or that they own the data that they can monetize in numerous ways,” Moorhead said.

Baidu did not immediately comment.

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