Baidu slips into higher gear in driver­less cars

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By MENGJ ING and SHI XIAOFFENG in Wuzhen, Zhe­jiang Con­tact the writ­ers at mengjing@chi­nadaily.com.cn and shixf@chi­nadaily.com.cn

With each pass­ing year, the World In­ter­net Con­fer­ence in Wuzhen, Zhe­jiang province, ap­pears to evolve, in terms of wow­ing au­di­ences and me­dia with un­prece­dented, un­ex­pected ex­pe­ri­ences.

Last year, Baidu Inc show­cased its driver­less car in an ex­hi­bi­tion. The event was made mem­o­rable by Baidu CEO Robin Li, who stood next to the ve­hi­cle and, wield­ing a mi­cro­phone with elan, in­tro­duced its fea­tures.

This year, the Wuzhen event took the art of au­di­ence-wow­ing to a whole new level. Me­dia and par­tic­i­pants were pro­vided real-life rides in driver­less ve­hi­cles. Hand it to Baidu's rapid progress in the devel­op­ment of new tech.

China Daily re­porters took one such ride. The car was dex­trous in driv­ing it­self all right. Not only was the ride smooth but pre­cise. Its sen­sors ac­cu­rately iden­ti­fied all parts of the traf­fic and mapped out a safe path for the car to take. The ride was so nor­mal it took us a while to re­al­ize the car was ac­tu­ally driv­ing it­self, with­out any in­ter­ven­tion from Baidu's staff mem­bers.

The demon­stra­tion marks Baidu's first at­tempt at op­er­at­ing driver­less cars in real-life traf­fic sit­u­a­tions. Dur­ing the R&D phase, the Bei­jing-based com­pany had car­ried out sev­eral road tests in China and abroad, and op­er­ated the ve­hi­cles in closed pi­lot zones.

Baidu has been fine-tun­ing its driver­less tech­nolo­gies since late last year. It sees tremen­dous op­por­tu­ni­ties for ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to re­shape the tra­di­tional au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try.

It has an­nounced an am­bi­tious plan for small-scale com­mer­cial­iza­tion of driver­less cars in the next three years and mass pro­duc­tion by 2021.

Wang Jin, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager of the au­tonomous driv­ing unit of Baidu, said at a re­cent con­fer­ence in Bei­jing that the com­pany has made good progress in au­tonomous driv­ing tech­nol­ogy.

"The ac­cu­racy rate of cam­eras used to iden­tify ve­hi­cles (on the road) is 90.13 per­cent now, a world record. Same time last year, it was 89.6 per­cent. The tech­nol­ogy of iden­ti­fy­ing pedes­tri­ans is 95 per­cent ac­cu­rate and that of recogni- zing traf­fic sig­nals is 99.9 per­cent ac­cu­rate," he said, adding Baidu will con­tinue to strive for 100 per­cent ac­cu­racy.

Ear­lier this year, Baidu and Ford Mo­tor Co made a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment in a ma­jor US pro­ducer of li­dar sen­sors, a key tech­nol­ogy that helps driver­less cars "see" their sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

The au­tonomous driver­less tech­nol­ogy Baidu is bet­ting on is cer­tainly the most com­pli­cated one, which re­quires sev­eral break­throughs in tech­nol­ogy. But many other Chi­nese tech com­pa­nies chose to use a less "dis­rup­tive" ap­proach to en­ter the au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try with "smarter" cars that are not smart enough to drive them­selves.

In July, e-com­merce gi­ant Al­ibaba Group Hold­ing Ltd launched an in­ter­net-linked car with sev­eral ad­vanced fea­tures. A real-time nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem can of­fer re­lief to the driver from star­ing at smart­phone-based nav­i­ga­tion tools.

ZHU XINGXIN / CHINA DAILY

A driver­less car, de­vel­oped by in­ter­net gi­ant Baidu Inc, on dis­play at the Light of the In­ter­net Ex­po­si­tion in Wuzhen, Zhe­jiang province, on Tues­day. The expo, part of the Third World In­ter­net Con­fer­ence, opened on Tues­day.

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