China's Baidu Ramps Up Self-driving Car Initiative

The search giant makes a series of big announcements at CES 2019

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Baidu is on a roll. The Beijing-headquartered multinational technology company made a slew of announcements at the ongoing 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It announced Apollo 3.5, the latest version of its Apollo open source driverless car platform to support "complex urban and suburban driving environments"; unveiled Apollo Enterprise, which it described as "a suite of intelligent driving products and solutions for mass production vehicles"; and recommitted its plans to launch 100 robo-taxis in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province.

Company handout

"With the key development of Apollo Enterprise, Baidu Apollo expands from an open technology platform to a leading product and service provider for autonomous driving and connected vehicles. We're excited to join hands with each and every Apollo Enterprise client to create safe, customizable, and scalable solutions to accelerate the commercialization of intelligent driving and enhance the mobility experience for everyone," said Ya-Qin Zhang, president of Baidu, in a press statement.

Apollo Enterprise

Baidu said that Apollo is now being tested, contributed to, or deployed by over 130 global partners, including NXP, Intel, and Nvidia. The Apollo platform has now grown into one of the largest autonomous driving ecosystems in the world, bringing together and used by over 12,000 developers and partners worldwide, including California's Udelv.

Apollo Enterprise solutions support vehicle and information safety and can be upgraded via OTA (over-the-air programing). Enterprise clients will receive dedicated service from Baidu support teams. The five main Apollo Enterprise products and solutions are: highway autonomous driving solutions; autonomous valet parking solutions; fully autonomous driving minibus solutions; intelligent map data service platform, with options for commercial, ADAS, and high-definition maps; and DuerOS for Apollo, a set of AI-based IoV solutions, with voice assistant, augmented reality, and motion detection capabilities.

Apollo 3.5

Baidu's Apollo 3.5 is the most powerful Apollo release yet. It unlocks the tools developers need to create reliable self-driving mobility solutions such as robo-taxis and autonomous delivery services. Its update includes new driving capabilities, such as the ability to manage unprotected turns, speed bumps, clear zones, side passes, narrow lanes, and autonomous parking.

One of the biggest innovations of Apollo 3.5 lies in its brand-new high-performance runtime framework: "the Apollo Cyber RT framework – the industry's first open source autonomous driving framework compatible with the development of production-grade autonomous driving systems."

Autonomous taxi service

In fall last year, the tech giant revealed its plans to work with the city government of Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province in the south-central part of China, to launch a driverless taxi service.

The company reconfirmed that this year 100 robo-taxis will operate on 130 miles of city roads equipped with Baidu's V2X technology in Changsha. The fleet will be China's first group of autonomous driving taxis managed by Baidu's V2X system, a comprehensive solution that integrates smart vehicles and intelligent road infrastructure for safer deployment of autonomous cars.

Apollo V2X terminal software and reference hardware will create "synergetic interactions between smart cars and intelligent roadways" to improve safety and mitigate traffic congestion. Under this system autonomous vehicles will be able to better communicate with traffic lights, the company statement says.