Baidu likens stir over fatal Uber crash in US to ‘man bites dog’ story

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 6:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 6:19pm

Robin Li Yanhong, chief executive officer of Beijing-based Baidu, defended autonomous driving technology on Monday, saying it was much safer and caused fewer traffic accidents than human drivers, just days after a self-driving Uber Technologies car failed to slow down and killed a 49-year-old woman in the US.

“On average, 500 people die from traffic accidents [caused by human drivers] a day. But we rarely read this in the news. While the first accident involving an Uber autonomous driving car made quite a stir, it is to some extent mainly because ‘man bites dog’ makes news,” Li, who was speaking at the China Development Forum in Beijing, said in comments that were later verified by the company.

According to Li, the Uber accident will not impact the autonomous driving development of Baidu, which is being backed by the Chinese government to lead China’s push into driverless technology as the country bolsters its position in the global race for autonomous vehicles.

The strategy is part of a broader contest for supremacy in artificial intelligence as Beijing seeks to cut its reliance on foreign technology and even lead the world in new developments from autonomous driving cars to facial recognition.

Beijing gives Baidu go-ahead to test self-driving cars as US reviews safety after Uber crash

The Uber accident in Tempe, Arizona, earlier this month, was the first death attributed to a self-driving car operating in autonomous mode. The accident has cast a shadow over the technology and increased pressure on the industry to prove its software and sensors are safe.

Uber suspended self-driving car tests in all North American cities after the accident. Toyota Motor also temporarily suspended its autonomous driving system on US roads following the Uber crash. Separately, NuTonomy, a self-driving car start-up, halted its trials in Boston.

But on the other side of the Pacific, China, has shown no signs of slowing down and it is going ahead with self-driving tests.

Last Friday, the Chinese capital of Beijing gave the green light to Baidu to test self-driving cars on its city streets, a move that not only showed strong government support for the sector but was also a major step towards gathering enough data and experience to bring driverless cars to market.

Uber halts driverless car programme after pedestrian is killed

Baidu, the operator of China’s largest online search engine, is developing it self-driving platform Apollo, which is described by the company as the Android system for autonomous driving.

The company has signed up dozens of partners for the Apollo platform and will see mass production of its first autonomous driving bus via a partnership with Chinese bus maker King Long United Automotive Industry in the coming months.

Li said the driverless bus will first be used in closed areas like tourism sites and airports, but he is confident that autonomous driving cars will be on open roads in three to five years.