Ford partners with Chinese tech giant Baidu to test Level 4 self-driving cars

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Ford and Baidu self-driving car prototype

Ford and Baidu self-driving car prototype

Ford and Chinese internet services giant Baidu have joined forces to develop self-driving technology.

The two firms announced last week that they will jointly test Level 4 self-driving cars in Beijing, initially in a program of two years duration starting in late 2018.

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.

Ford and Baidu's announcement came in the same week that Baidu and Volvo announced plans to jointly develop and eventually manufacture a Level 4 self-driving car. Baidu also last week said it will launch a Level 4 self-driving car under the auspices of historic Chinese brand Hongqi, or Red Flag. The Hongqi car will be used in a trial starting in 2019.

Baidu, which is often described as China's version of Alphabet Inc., is also working with several of China's largest cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, to develop infrastructure to support self-driving cars.

Ford, along with a handful of other major automakers, has already been part of the team that is helping guide development of Baidu's open-source self-driving system known as Apollo. The Apollo system also integrates the hardware and cloud data necessary for self-driving cars.

Ford is developing its own self-driving system and has been testing prototypes on U.S. roads for a number of years. Last month it announced it plans to expand its self-driving operations to Washington, D.C. after setting up similar operations in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Miami.

Ford hopes to roll out a commercial service involving self-driving cars in 2021. Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo has promised its own service by the end of 2018. Waymo's service will be launched in Phoenix, Arizona before spreading to more U.S. cities. General Motors and its GM Cruise self-driving operation plans a commercial service for launch in 2019.

 
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