The future of autonomous vehicles is still evolving. No one has locked it up yet. But if you ask me for a company that has a chance to rule and dominate, I will tell you that Baidu is ahead through its Apollo platform. Forget Google which is one of the industry pioneers. Forget Uber also. Both belong to the same class of companies as I explained early in the week. Baidu is doing to the autonomous vehicle industry what Android did to the mobile device sector: liberate the sector by providing the core operating system upon which self driving vehicles will run.
Baidu is putting some serious cash behind its self-driving car push after it announced a $1.5 billion fund that’s focused on backing autonomous driving tech companies.
The Chinese giant, best known for its internet search service and AI technology, has prioritized autonomous vehicles in a major way in recent years, so this comes as little surprise. Baidu made its Apollo self-driving car platform freely available to the auto industry earlier this year. That quickly picked up partners and it currently claims around 70, including Hyundai, Bosch, Continental, Nvidia, Microsoft Cloud, Velodyne, TomTom, UCAR and Grab.
Now Baidu — which is testing autonomous vehicles in both China and the U.S. — is doubling down with capital via this new fund, which it said will aim to support around 100 companies over the next three years.
Simply, if Baidu succeeds, it will assume the position of Android in the business of making self driving cars. That means car companies have to build the hardware while they depend on the operating system offered by Baidu to operate. That operating system goes beyond software to sensors and hardware devices which are very critical for self-driving vehicles. The company has a grand vision to become the leader in this sector.
Baidu is opening its self-driving vehicle platform in a bid to help drive the development of autonomous cars.
The Chinese internet giant today announced its Apollo project that will see its platform, including vehicle platform, hardware platform, software platform and cloud data services, opened to help others in the industry, particularly car manufacturers, to develop autonomous vehicles.
The initial target is to open the technologies up for vehicles in restricted environments this July. Baidu said it then plans to share technology for simple urban road conditions before the end of the year, with the ultimate goal of opening its full tech stack — covering fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads — by 2020.
What Is Apollo?
By looking at the Apollo manifesto, you can see why this is a strong project for Baidu and why it is raising huge funds to support it.
Apollo is an open platform whose primary purpose is to become a vibrant autonomous driving ecosystem by providing a comprehensive, safe, secure, and reliable solution that supports all major features and functions of an autonomous vehicle.
Apollo’s ambition is no less than to revolutionize the auto and transportation industries, and there will be challenges of unprecedented scale and complexity along the way. Given Apollo’s enormous potential to change the world, this historic opportunity requires a unique governance model that must support a highly effective leadership which is as inclusive and open as possible in order to swiftly achieve Apollo’s vision.
In order to safeguard the architectural integrity, system reliability, and rapid evolution of Apollo, Baidu is willing to step up and exercise its leadership in driving important decisions whenever needed while preserving active participation of the wider community.
Apollo Is Huge
Apollo offers many values to partners and they include:
- “Apollo” will provide an open, complete and reliable software platform for its partners in the automotive and autonomous driving industry to develop their own autonomous driving systems with reference vehicles and hardware platform.
- In Apollo open platform, you will get the world’s leading HD map service, the only open Autonomous Driving simulation engine with huge amount of data, and End-to-End, a deep learning Autonomous Driving algorithm.
- The Apollo open platform enables you to develop, test and reply Autonomous Vehicles faster. With more participants, more data will be collected. Compare to a closed ecosystem, Apollo can evolve faster, bring benefits to every participant, and become more and more mature with the contribution of everyone.
Apollo has already onboard major global firms as partners, far ahead of any other company. If it builds critical mass with great technology results, you will see it as the platform technology of choice for any firm that wants to invest in self-driving vehicles. When they tell you that China does not innovate, remind them that a possible Android of autonomous vehicles is being created in China.
In future, you will be assured that an entrepreneur in Lagos can start a self-driving car company easily with Baidu technology than anything out there. That is the advantage it will enjoy if it solidifies its position.