Baidu has announced plans to develop self-driving buses within the next three years.
The Chinese search engine giant says a new business unit will focus on developing autonomous buses able to transport commuters without human interaction in the next three years, with an overall aim of making the vehicles ready for mass production within five years.
Details are sketchy as nothing has been released concerning the levels of investment being ploughed into the scheme or which potential auto manufacturing partners could lend Baidu the expertise required to develop self-driving buses which meet regulatory and safety standards on today's roads.
However, as reported by Reuters, the Chinese firm is currently working with BMW AG on autonomous vehicle research and development, and so it is likely the automaker will have something to do with the new project.
Baidu Senior Vice President Wang Jing has been selected to lead the new business unit.
Self-driving vehicles have become the holy grail for technology firms and automakers alike in the past few years. Google, Apple and Microsoft, among many others, are exploring how the connected vehicle could change the way we move from A to B in the future. Infotainment systems, sensors, onboard cameras and inbuilt map technology can all make driving more fun as well as safer, but a car which can drive itself without driver input is now the hot topic for many.
Google has been working on autonomous vehicles for several years and has now been followed by Baidu, Tesla, LG and even Apple, according to reports.
Earlier this month, Baidu announced the successful completion of "rigorous, fully-automated tests" of self-driving technology implanted within a modified BMW 3 Series car. The company says the tests mark a major milestone for Baidu, as the firm's technology demonstrated acceptable responses to complex road situations and environments.
Taking place on a test track close to Baidu's Beijing headquarters, the car was able to peak at 62mph during tests -- far beyond the 25mph speed limit imposed by Google in the company's own self-driving car experiments -- and was able to made turns properly, slow down when vehicles were detected ahead, change lanes, pass other cars and merge into traffic without issue.
The idea of mass-producing self-driving buses in such a short timeframe might be a lofty goal, but in the meantime, the Chinese firm hopes to roll out autonomous cars sooner rather than later -- despite having already missed a former timeline based on the second half of 2015.
2015 Holiday guide: Top tech gadgets to give this season
Read on: Top picks