WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The faster autonomous vehicles hit the roads the faster the transportation industry’s going to flip, and it’s clear that there are companies that want it to happen sooner rather than later.
Chinese tech and internet giant Baidu has begun volume production of China’s first commercially employed self-driving bus. The company said it would soon be rolled out in tourist spots and airports.
Baidu Chief Executive Robin Lee watched the 100th “Apolong” autonomous vehicle roll off a production line in the southeastern city of Xiamen on Wednesday.
“2018 marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving in China,” he said. “From the mass production of Apolong, we can truly see that autonomous driving is making great strides, taking the industry from zero to one,” Li added.
The 14 seater Apolong, about one third of the size of a normal bus, has no steering wheel, driver’s seat, accelerator or brake, which makes it more advanced than the self-driving bus that’s been cruising around the Las Vegas strip for the past few months.
Powered by Apollo 3.0, the latest version of Baidu’s open autonomous driving platform, the minibus is co-produced by Baidu itself and Chinese manufacturer King Long.
Apolong will soon be pressed into commercial use in enclosed areas such as tourist spots and airports in several cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Xiongan.
Early next year, Apolong buses are set to enter Japan’s self-driving market as shuttle buses at nuclear power stations and in Tokyo to ferry around elderly people in local communities.
Baidu, who are sometimes described as “China’s Google” operates China’s leading search engine, but also invests heavily in services ranging from online payment to connected devices and Artificial Intelligence (AI) used in autonomous cars and beyond.
“In the past, China exported cheap commodities to the world,” Robin Li said. “In the future, Chine will export AI technology.”
That said though Google, who also have an eye on the self-driving sector and who just started their own Waymo branded self-driving service in Texas, and who just placed orders for another 62,000 vehicles, might try to give them a run for their money, so it’ll be interesting watch these two giants going head to head in the years to come.