The Chinese search engine giant Baidu is planning to commence small-scale production and trial operations of its fully autonomous minibuses in July, 2018, according to a NetEase report.
Speaking at the 2017 Baidu World Conference in Beijing last week, its chairman and CEO Robin Li said the Chinese company is planning to launch its driverless cars before 2020 -- which is when markets generally believe mass production of unmanned cars will eventually be realised -- because Baidu is an innovator and wishes to move ahead of schedule.
After the small-scale production and trial operations of its unmanned minibuses next year, Baidu will also launch fully automative cars with Chinese automobile brands JAC Motors and BAIC Motor in 2019, and Chery Automobile in 2020, said the report.
In September, Baidu stepped up investment in its self-driving project that launched in 2013 with a fresh $1.5 billion "Apollo Fund", named after its open-source autonomous driving platform.
Li said last week that Baidu's Apollo platform has already attracted more than 6,000 developers, adding that over 1,700 partners have joined the Apollo project and more than 100 partners have applied for open data on Apollo.
Li also demonstrated a fatigue-driving monitoring system for bus drivers at the conference. Based on Baidu's image recognition technology, the system is able to perk up the driver when it detects that he or she is sleepy when holding the steering wheel. When the system detects the driver is experiencing severe fatigue, automotive driving will be initiated to send the driver to the nearest service area, according to the report.
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The company also released the latest version of Apollo, its open-source autonomous driving platform.
Baidu will be making use of some of Microsoft's Azure services, as part of MIcrosoft's Connected Vehicle tookit, in delivering its self-driving car platform.
Baidu and Samsung subsidiary Harman are teaming up again to develop in-car AI solutions such as automatic speech recognition aimed at the Chinese auto industry.
In July, Baidu will provide access to some of its tools as an attempt to build a 'collaborative ecosystem' for autonomous vehicles.
Less than a year after launching its Autonomous Driving Unit, the Beijing-based search giant let the public test drive its fully-autonomous vehicles, which it wants to mass produce by 2021.