Chinese web services giant Baidu has confirmed that it will launch its own self-driving car in the second half of 2015, after announcing its entry into the driverless race in March. Having previously worked with BMW on the project, Baidu also now confirms that it will produce the vehicle in collaboration with an unnamed third-party manufacturer.
The company’s Senior Vice President and Technology Strategy board chairman Jin Wang made the announcement last week at the 2015 China Cloud Computing Conference, according to TechWeb [Chinese language].
Like Google, Baidu has a premier place within its own territory’s search engine market, having accumulated vast stores of mapping information, which the company intends to incorporate into its undriven vehicles via its research into artificial intelligence. Baidu’s mapping information can afford to be more comprehensive than Google’s, not only because it has ‘street view access’ that Mountain View cannot obtain, but because in mapping terms, the company provides no coverage outside of mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.
Baidu first announced that it would produce what it prefers to call ‘autonomous cars’ in July of 2014, but hinted in March that it would commit to a 2015 release of actual product, bringing its place in the race up to speed with Google and Uber, both currently financially committed to the new market.
The company maintains an artificial intelligence research program called the Baidu Institute of Deep Learning, colloquially known as the ‘Baidu Brain’, but the project fell into controversy last week after evidence was produced that Baidu had artificially influenced its benchmarked placement in the race to perfect image recognition, itself an early benchmark of genuine AI.
That notwithstanding, the announcement makes great emphasis on the sophistication of Baidu’s AI initiative, citing a ‘thinking brain’ with 20 billion parameters that is capable of high-level abstract thought and mimics the behaviour of human neurons in its structure.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, IDL’s head Yu Kai indicated that Baidu does not currently share the zeitgeist of turning autonomous cars into passenger lounges: “Our idea is not that a car should totally replace the driver,” said Kai “but that it will give the driver freedom”. He went on to indicate that the Baidu autonomous vehicle will retain a steering wheel, gas pedals and all the traditional accoutrements of motoring.