Fleet of driverless Baidu cars takes to the road in Wuzhen

Vehicles unveiled during demonstration for tech experts attending World Internet Conference which opened on Wednesday

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2016, 6:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 12:04pm

Baidu Inc, the Chinese internet search giant, has been showing off its new driverless cars, during a trial run in Wuzhen in Zhejiang province, the eastern river township which is hosting this week’s World Internet Conference.

Without drivers, a fleet of 18 autonomous vehicles drove along the city’s Ziye Road, as a demonstration for the technology gurus arriving from around the globe for the three-day event, which started on Wednesday. The cars will be available for delegates to try out throughout the week.

The first passengers were taken on a 10-minute, 3-kilometre test run in the blue-striped driverless cars.

Baidu has co-produced the vehicles based on three existing car models: BYD’s plug-in hybrid compact sedan Qin, Chery Automobile’s minicar model EQ and BAIC’s compact sedan EU260. The company is partnering with German car maker BMW in building the cars.

It hopes to have a small number of the vehicles being used for commercial purposes within three years and for it to be in large-scale production within five.

During the test rides on a preset route, the cars stopped and started at traffic lights, reacted by stopping when they sensed barriers or pedestrians, accelerated to 50 kilometres per hour, and did U-turns.

Besides their guest passengers, the cars’ drivers’ seats were occupied by monitoring staff to ensure safety, but Baidu said none of them needed to take control of their vehicles.

“The car is quite smooth when starting and accelerating,” said one passenger, after completing his test. “But it’s a bit too noisy – I think that can be improved.”

Baidu is betting big on driverless cars and has completed a number of road tests, both in China and overseas. But the Wuzhen route included complicated road conditions and obstacles for the first time.

Wang Jing, Baidu’s senior vice president who heads the company’s automotive unit, said the test was an excellent illustration of the very latest in driverless technology.

Baidu driverless cars last December completed a test ride in Beijing, which covered 30 kilometres on a highway for 40 minutes. But Wang added Tuesday’s test was a lot more advanced, and much closer to real urban road conditions.