Imagine getting on a bus that drives itself. It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but could easily become a reality within the next couple years. The chief executive of the Chinese internet company, Baidu recently announced in an interview at Wall Street Journal’s D Live Conference that the company is planning to release a completely self-driving bus in China next year, and expects to mass produce the model as early as 2021.
An Internet Giant
Often referred to as the Google of China, Baidu is a major search engine that dominates the region. Its key source of revenue is made through online advertisements, and after a scandal where the company promoted a fake medical treatment, Baidu has decided to donate nearly $1.5 billion on research and development, particularly for artificial intelligence. The company decided to focus on tracking internet rumors and false claims by using artificial intelligence tools to search through blogs, forums and websites to label the content as such, and even provide appropriate corrections to set the reader straight. The whole process is made possible by linking with registered police agencies around the country.
The company’s interest in artificial intelligence is not confined to just the web. Baidu is using its designated budget for A.I. research to build a diverse portfolio and compete with rivals in the market. This of course, includes bringing these technological innovations to the road by working with a variety of companies on autonomous motor vehicles. Right now, Baidu is collaborating with a large bus manufacturer in China to give a self-driving bus its own route by next year.
Baidu has teamed up with the Chinese automaker BAIC Motor Corp and the American tech company, NVIDIA. The companies have worked together to develop the open-source A.I. vehicle software, Apollo which will be used to power the vehicles. Baidu’s ambition is for its Apollo software to be used by fully self-driving cars within the next five years and in semi-autonomous cars within two years.
Car manufacturers and tech companies in the US are paying close attention to Baidu’s proposed innovations, and are preparing their own businesses to make the technological leap. Tech giant, Intel is looking to develop its own version of the technology, and is partnering with Alphabet’s A.I. vehicle unit Weymo to create a fleet of self-driving cars. Meanwhile, Tesla claims that its models have been produced with the hardware for self-driving technology in case regulators approve such software, whether it be Apollo or Weymo.
The Bus of the Future
Baidu’s chief executive claims that the Apollo software will provide several benefits for the future of buses, namely security and entertainment. By removing the need for human drivers behind the wheel, human error is also removed and optimal artificial intelligence has the potential to greatly reduce the number of dangerous accidents on the road. Vehicles which implement this technology are also envisioned with built-in-screens which will provide a variety of entertainment options so that a passenger wouldn’t even need to rely on their own mobile devices during long trips. With other technological innovations to the bus industry, such as the prominence of electric buses, luxury services and extensive entertainment offerings, the bus of the future could be stopping at the present a little bit earlier than expected.