Chinese Internet giant Baidu has been moving to keep up with Google in the development of autonomous vehicle technologies. After unveiling its own totally self-driving car in August, it has been looking for a place to do more real-world street testing.
In September, Baidu received approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to trial its self-driving car in the state. This approval gives Baidu instant access to test its technologies with the unique United States traffic rules and roadways.
But it won’t be California that will receive the first public test runs from the company. Wuzhen, China, a popular tourist city in Baidu’s home nation will receive that honor. These tests, being conducted with vehicles supplied by BYD, Chery and BAIC, are beginning this week.
Initial testing on a controlled roadway
The initial test transported 200 people across a 3.16km roadway that has been mapped to within a centimeter of accuracy. Baidu’s cars are equipped with familiar systems for self-driving cars: LiDar, video cameras, radar, and a powerful on-board computer that calculates information gathered from all three in real time.
The result: a self-driving vehicle that can maneuver, turn, and respond while traveling a moderate 60 kilometers per hour. Staying consistent with other companies’ autonomous vehicle tests, Baidu is keeping a driver behind the wheel just in case something unexpected occurs.
Baidu started its trek towards developing its own self-driving technologies only one year ago. During that year, it has come a long way. While its cars are certainly capable of handling basic driving tasks, production road-ready models aren’t expected until 2018.
This puts it in the competitive reach of companies like nuTonomy, Uber, Zoox, and others which are hard at work on their own autonomous vehicles. Over the next five years, major car manufacturers including Toyota, Ford, and others are also hoping to get where Tesla is now with its self-driving Autopilot system.
Time will tell how long it will be before the majority of the cars on the open road are driving themselves. Having more technology companies working on the technologies required to make this vision a reality will undoubtedly make this happen sooner than later.