Baidu, the leading Chinese language Internet search provider, announced a new project—named “Apollo”—intended provide an open, complete and reliable software platform for its partners in the automotive and autonomous driving industry to develop their own autonomous driving systems with reference vehicles and hardware platform.
By opening up its autonomous driving technology to the industry, Baidu aims to build a collaborative ecosystem, utilizing its strengths in artificial intelligence (AI) technology to work together with other companies to promote the development and popularization of autonomous driving technology.
Based in Beijing and in Silicon Valley, Baidu’s Autonomous Driving Unit (ADU) is part of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group (IDG) headed by Dr. Qi Lu, Baidu’s COO and Group President, as the general manager. IDG combines Baidu’s Autonomous Driving Unit, Intelligent Vehicle Unit, and CarLife with a mission to accelerate auto industry upgrade in AI era. ADU is developing autonomous driving technologies at Level 4 automation.
AI has great potential to drive social development, and one of AI's biggest opportunities is intelligent vehicles.—Dr. Qi Lu
Baidu borrowed the name “Apollo” from the US’ Apollo lunar landing program—a ground-breaking project that brought together multiple forces for the benefit of society. Baidu believes autonomous driving is similar in terms of its potential to transform the world.
Baidu’s “Apollo” project provides a complete hardware and software service solution that includes a vehicle platform, hardware platform, software platform and cloud data services. Baidu will open source code and capabilities in obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, vehicle operating systems and other functions, as well as a complete set of testing tools.
The company will also initiate a partnership alliance, working with partners who will provide the best and most compatible vehicles, sensors, and other components, to achieve broad participation and collaboration and to provide references and recommendations to participants of a rapidly expanding ecosystem enabled by Project Apollo. This will lower the barriers to entry for research and development of autonomous driving technologies, making it more accessible to the general public, and accelerate the overall pace of innovation.
Baidu will first open its autonomous driving technology for restricted environment in July; it will then share its technology for cars running autonomously in simple urban road conditions towards the end of the year; and, finally, it will gradually introduce fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads over time by 2020.
Baidu has invested heavily in the research and development of autonomous driving technology since 2015.
In December 2015, Baidu conducted successful road tests for its fully autonomous cars on the highways and roads of Beijing.
Baidu received an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit for California in September 2016.
In November 2016, Baidu conducted open trial operations of its autonomous car fleet in November 2016 at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, where more than 200 guest passengers were able to take the cars for a ride.
Today, a number of technology giants are active in the autonomous driving field and leading automotive manufacturers have begun to incorporate driverless technology into their own vehicles. However, until today most players have been working independently or maintained complete control over their technology. Baidu says that is the first among the major players to open its technology and platform to the industry.
China is the world’s largest market for automotive sales and production. It has many car brands and an open environment that is ripe for collaboration. Baidu took the initiative to open our autonomous driving technology to the industry in order to encourage greater innovation and opportunities, making better use of our technology to drive the evolution of the entire industry.
An open, innovative industry ecosystem initiated by Baidu will accelerate the development of autonomous driving in the US and other developed automotive markets. In addition, through open technology our technological achievements can be quickly applied to a wide range of fields—and accelerate even more achievements. This is a great opportunity for those talent dedicated in autonomous driving.—Qi Lu
Baidu appointed Dr. Lu as Group President and Chief Operating Officer in January 2017. Prior to joining Baidu, Dr. Lu served as Microsoft’s Global Executive Vice President and led one of Microsoft's three business units.