Baidu plans to put self-driving buses on China's roads in three years

Mass production envisaged by 2020

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 3:17pm

Chinese internet search giant Baidu plans to put self-driving buses on the roads in the next three years, the company said on Monday as it unveiled its new autonomous driving unit.

Baidu tested its driverless technology on a modified BMW 3 series car last week. The car travelled 30km around Beijing, at speeds of up to 100km/h in varying road conditions.

Wang Jin, the new business unit’s general manager, said Baidu hoped to commercialise its operations in three years, and mass produce the self-driving buses by 2020. He did not identify the bus manufacturers Baidu would be working with.

Wang said he expected that in 10 years, more than 80 per cent of new vehicles would come equipped with self-driving technologies.

Baidu is also in a partnership with BMW to produce a passenger car, although no expected launch date has been announced.

Analysts say Baidu hopes to tap into revenue streams based on the services it could provide in its autonomous vehicles, such as navigation services and online search.

“Baidu … has invested in developing artificial intelligence and its businesses range from online search to internet-enabled cars,” Yan Honghui, an analyst with Beijing-based internet consultancy Analysys International, told China Daily.

“It has Baidu map providing navigation services and its online to offline services can match people’s search requests to dine out with the nearest restaurants.”

Baidu, the first Chinese company experimenting with driverless technology, is following in the footsteps of Google and Apple.

Other Chinese companies, such as e-commerce giant Alibaba and entertainment giant LeTV, are also shifting into the automobile businesses.

Alibaba has teamed up with state-controlled SAIC Motor, investing US$160 million to produce internet-connected vehicles.

In October, LeTV announced a partnership with carmakers Aston Martin and BAIC Motor to build an electric car, which is scheduled to debut at China’s largest car show, Auto China 2016, in April.

US-based Tesla Motors has already released its driverless technology via a system update for its electric vehicles, although drivers in Hong Kong have been warned against using the software.

Hong Kong’s Transport Department issued a warning to the electric vehicle maker, saying Tesla did not go through the necessary regulatory approval processes for its hands-free driving technology.