Baidu has confirmed it is developing a self-driving car, just like its U.S. rival Google, but says the vehicle it is working on will require a driver and serve mainly to assist drivers on the road.
The Chinese search giant said development work had already begun and made it clear its vehicle would not replace the need for human drivers. Instead, the car will be "highly autonomous", collecting data about traffic and road conditions to assist the human driver, deputy managing director of Baidu's Institute of Deep Learning, Yu Kai, said in an interview with The Next Web.
The vehicle, though, will be able to self-drive if the need arises. Yu said the goal is to allow the driver to decide when he wants to take the wheel and resume control, or let the car operate itself.
He said in a China Daily report that the car will be armed with camera, radar, sensors, and a navigation system, and drive itself to the destination that's entered into the navigation device. Data sensors will collect information about traffic conditions and the vehicle will plan its route and speed accordingly based on big data technology. Yu said the first prototype should be ready in 2015.
Baidu's blueprint is vastly different from Google's, which has no steering wheel and no accelerator and brake pedal. Unveiled in May, the car is driven primarily through software and sensors, and operated with the push of a button. The U.S. search company believes improving road safety will require vehicles that are very basic and that can operate without human intervention.
The Google cars have sensors that automatically detect blind spots and objects located at a distance of more than two football fields. The speed of the vehicles is capped at 25mph (40kmph).
Neil Flynn, head equity analyst at Shanghai-based Chineseinvestors.com, said in the China Daily report: "Companies like Baidu, Google, and Facebook all generate revenue through advertising. Therefore, it is natural for Baidu to be pursuing a similar strategy to Google's, because the more information you have about people, the more that you can earn in advertising revenue from them.
"If you had a self-driving car, Google would, for example, recognize you tend to go to a pizza restaurant every Tuesday at 7pm, and could therefore advertise local pizzerias to you every Tuesday at 6:30pm. By having products that users can use in every aspect of their lives, Google can understand each of its users in depth and develop an optimal advertising strategy for each individual," Flynn said.
This may sound awesome for a driver who loves pizzas, but probably not for a guy who doesn't want Google to know he visits a motel at a certain time once a week.