Baidu to have self-driving vehicles in operation in 2018

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While most companies competing in the self-driving space are closely guarding their developments, Baidu, a search engine giant from China and leader in the development of artificial intelligence, is taking the opposite approach.

It's developing a fully open-source self-driving system called Apollo, and at this week's 2018 Consumer Electronics Show the company announced the second-generation version Apollo 2.0.

“Open platforms and ecosystems are the best way to accelerate the transition of AI technologies toward commercialization,” Baidu President and CEO Qi Lu said in a statement. “Based upon this idea, Apollo has emerged as the world’s most open, complete, and powerful autonomous driving ecosystem.”

Apollo is not only software but also hardware and cloud data necessary for self-driving cars. The latest version, which has more than 90 companies involved in the development, including automakers such as Daimler, Ford and General Motors, as well as tech firms such as Nvidia, Microsoft and TomTom, is said to be much closer to commercialization.

According to Baidu, Apollo 2.0 brings added security and greatly enhanced capabilities in positioning, perception, planning and control, and cloud simulation. It is also compatible with more vehicles including minivans, SUVs and trucks, as well as sedans.

Apollo 2.0 contains more than 165,000 lines of code and is growing by about 65,000 lines per quarter.

There's still a long way to go, however. Although Apollo 2.0 is able to handle driving in the dark and in poor weather, it still requires relatively simple urban roads.

Nevertheless, Baidu is confident enough to introduce self-driving buses for operation in select areas of Chinese cites by mid-2018. The company says it will launch the first system for cars, with Level 3 self-driving capability, in 2020. Level 3 means the car will be able to drive itself in select conditions but will require a driver to take over within a moment's notice.

Baidu is also testing self-driving cars in parts of California with AutonomouStuff. The American startup is supplying a number of components required for self-driving cars and is helping to test some of Baidu's prototypes.

Baidu is also working with Access Services, an American public paratransit services provider, to launch a pilot project in Los Angeles to provide short route self-driving services for the elderly and people with disabilities. The pilot project is expected to start in 2018.

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