Baidu chief takes spin in a self-driv­ing car

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By FAN FEIFEI fan­feifei@chi­

Chi­nese in­ter­net search gi­ant Baidu Inc tested a self­driv­ing ve­hi­cle in Bei­jing on Wed­nes­day, with its chair­man and CEO Robin Li sit­ting in the pas­sen­ger seat. An­other Baidu em­ployee was in the driver’s seat, but wasn’t touch­ing the wheel. The test, con­ducted on the cap­i­tal’s Fifth Ring Road, aroused the in­ter­est of more than the au­di­ence of Baidu de­vel­op­ers to whom it was livestreamed. City traf­fic au­thor­i­ties looked askance at the test and are now in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the test was Un­der cur­rent traf­fic law, no ve­hi­cle is al­lowed on the city’s roads with­out a qual­i­fied driver op­er­at­ing it in a proper man­ner. The com­pany said the per­son be­hind the steer­ing wheel was “driv­ing” — mon­i­tor­ing the ve­hi­cle with­out touch­ing it. It de­clined to an­swer when asked if it had ob­tained per­mis­sion to con­duct the test. Al­though there are cur­rently no laws or reg­u­la­tions

ad­dress­ing self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles in China, the topic has gone vi­ral with in­ten­si­fied re­search ef­forts as tech­nol­ogy ma­tures in this area.

The des­ti­na­tion for Li’s self-driv­ing car was a Baidu de­vel­op­ers’ con­fer­ence on ar ti­fi­cial i ntel­li­gence re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

“We will usher in an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence era,” Li told the au­di­ence, call­ing the mar­ket prospects for self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles a vi­tal part of over­all ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. Baidu is will­ing to share these cut­tingedge tech­nolo­gies with in­dus­try part­ners, he added.

“Baidu has in­vested heavi- ly in the AI sec­tor, as 15 per­cent of our rev­enue has been spent on the R&D of AI tech­nolo­gies in the past few years,” Li said.

In April, Baidu an­nounced a new project called Apollo, which is de­signed to open up its au­ton­o­mous driv­ing plat­form to part­ners — a move to pro­mote the de­vel­op­ment of self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Lu Qi, Baidu’s group pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer said at the con­fer­ence that more than 50 part­ners have joined the Apollo open au­ton­o­mous driv­ing project, form­ing one of the largest and most di­verse au­ton­o­mous driv­ing ecosys­tems. Lu called the project an im­por- tant mile­stone for the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try.

Zeng Zhiling, manag­ing di­rec­tor of LMC Au­to­mo­tive Con­sult­ing Co, said Baidu’s ef­forts to­ward an open self­driv­ing plat­form and re­lated tech­nolo­gies are of great sig­nif­i­cance to the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try and will boost the de­vel­op­ment and adop­tion of au­ton­o­mous driv­ing.

How­ever, auto com­pa­nies still have a long way to go be­fore self-driv­ing tech­nolo­gies will be avail­able in largescale com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions, ex­perts said.

“Self-driv­ing has be­come a trend in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, but more time is needed be­fore such ve­hi­cles can re­al­ize mass pro­duc­tion and com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tion,” said Xu Yan­hua, deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the China As­so­ci­a­tion of Automobile Man­u­fac­tur­ers, not­ing that US tech heavy­weight Google Inc is still in the test­ing stage of its own self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles.

More tol­er­ance and sup­port should be given to in­no­va­tive driv­ing tech­nolo­gies and busi­ness mod­els, said Zhu Wei, a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions law at China Uni­ver­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Science and Law, but said he wor­ries about safety.

“There is no doubt that the safety is­sue al­ways comes up as the top pri­or­ity,” Zhu said.


In­side Baidu’s high-tech pro­to­type.

Robin Li

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