Volvo hit the accelerator Thursday on the further integration of the automotive and tech industries by announcing plans to jointly develop a self-driving car with Chinese internet services giant Baidu.
The plan is to mass produce the cars in China for sale to fleets as well as individuals. Timing wasn't mentioned but the companies confirmed the cars will be battery-electric vehicles with Level 4 self-driving capability.
A Level 4 self-driving car can operate without a driver in select conditions. The conditions usually include operating within a pre-determined, sufficiently mapped area, known as geo-fencing, as well as within certain weather restrictions. The ultimate goal is a Level 5 car which can handle all conditions expected of a human.
While Volvo is developing its own self-driving system, the self-driving car it will develop with Baidu will be controlled by the Chinese tech firm's open-source self-driving system known as Apollo.
The Apollo system also integrates the hardware and cloud data necessary for self-driving cars. The latest version, which has more than 90 companies involved in its 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.
Volvo was tapped by Baidu because of its safety reputation as well as expertise in car production. Industry forecasters predict demand for self-driving cars in China alone could top 14.5 million units by 2040.
Volvo in September gave a preview of what a future self-driving car could be like with the unveiling of the pod-on-wheels 360c concept. The automaker estimates that a third of the cars it sells will be self-driving capable by as early as 2025.
“With Baidu we take a big step forward in commercialising our autonomous compatible cars, built on Volvo’s industry-leading safety technology,” Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson said. “There is a strong development in autonomous drive in China, where Baidu is a leading player, and the market there offers huge opportunities for us as the supplier of choice for autonomous fleets.”
Volvo and Baidu's announcement came the same week that the Volkswagen Group and Intel's recently acquired self-driving car business Mobileye said they would jointly develop a commercial self-driving service in Israel. Development of the service will commence in early 2019 and roll out in phases reaching full commercialization in 2022.
Meanwhile, Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo has promised the first commercial self-driving service by the end of 2018. Waymo's service will be launched in Phoenix, Arizona before spreading to more U.S. cities.