Baidu opens up autonomous driving platform Apollo

In July, Baidu will provide access to some of its tools as an attempt to build a 'collaborative ecosystem' for autonomous vehicles.

Chinese search engine giant Baidu has announced that it is opening up access to much of the technology behind its autonomous vehicles.

From July this year, Baidu's partners in the auto industry will be able to use its platform -- known as Apollo, in honour of the US moon missions -- to develop their own autonomous driving systems. Partners will have access to tools for obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, and operating systems.

Baidu understands that it isn't alone in its efforts to make strides in the field of autonomous vehicle technology, with companies such as BlackBerry, Google, Lyft, Nvidia, and Uber making their own contributions.

But while companies such as Google seek to guard the technology and expertise behind their autonomous driving systems, Baidu said it wants to build a "collaborative ecosystem" to fast-track the technology's progress.

"China is the world's largest market for automotive sales and production. It has many car brands and an open environment that is ripe for collaboration." Qi Lu, COO at Baidu, said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that opening up access to its autonomous driving platform will also foster innovation in the US and other developed markets.

Baidu said it hopes to see vehicles start using its technology on urban roads toward the end of the year and then on highways and open city roads by 2020.

The company began developing autonomous vehicles in 2015. It has since tested its vehicles on the roads of Beijing and Wuzhen, as well as California after being awarded a permit by the California Department of Motor Vehicles in January.

Baidu has also been partnering with a other companies to make progress in the area. Earlier this year, for example, Baidu and state-owned passenger vehicle manufacturer BAIC Motor Corp announced they would be working together to launch a BAIC-built vehicle equipped with Baidu's telematics solutions.

In September 2016, Baidu and Nvidia announced a partnership that combines Nvidia's self-driving computing platform with Baidu's cloud and mapping technology to develop an algorithm-based operating system capable of powering complex navigation systems in autonomous vehicles. The companies have been testing autonomous vehicles in eastern Chinese cities including Wuhu and Shanghai.

Last year, Baidu also formed a self-driving team in Silicon Valley, focused on the research, development, and testing of autonomous vehicles. The team is part of Baidu Autonomous Driving Unit that operates in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.

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