Chinese search giant Baidu plans to start self-driving cars tests on roads in the United States as early as next month. The announcement comes after a few years of development at its Chinese headquarters and Silicon Valley tech lab.

Baidu’s chief scientist Andrew Ng revealed the news to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, calling on its Silicon Valley hub to “advance the effort,” and for “better coordination with the U.S. government.”

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The move to Silicon Valley testing comes just a few months after Baidu published plans to launch a self-driving car. The search giant, known as the “Google of China” wants to see at least some self-driving cars on the road in two years time, though Ng does not see a lot of potential that early.

“The (artificial intelligence) is good enough where the changes to infrastructure are modest,” Mr. Ng said in the interview. “Maybe in the distant future, we could make it drive like a human driver, but not in two years.”

Instead of commercial self-driving vehicles on the road, Baidu is aiming for a shuttle service in Chinese cities by 2018. Preliminary plans have already been drafted, though Massachusetts-startup NuTonomy might beat them to the finish line with its own shuttle service in Singapore.

Baidu not looking to be Detroit

Baidu uses modified BMW 3-series cars for its autonomous experiment, instead of the in-house approach used to develop the autonomous space like at Tesla, Google, and General Motors.

That might mean Baidu’s ambition is to sell the software and services, rather than build the hardware required for a self-driving car and sell the full package. That might put the company at odds with rival Google who – in addition to developing their own hardware as they’re doing now – are also looking into partnerships with Ford, General Motors, and other automotive giants.

The two search providers might clash as they try to win over these key customers in the automotive industry. In the west, that might spell disaster for Baidu, which lacks the brand recognition Google has built for more than a decade.

David Curry

David Curry

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