Chinese search giant Baidu announced Tuesday an open autonomous driving platform dubbed “Project Apollo” in an attempt to build a more collaborative ecosystem in the self-driving industry.
Named after the lunar landing program, the new platform encompasses hardware and software and aims to speed up self-driving car development and create cooperation between automotive and autonomous driving companies.
The “Apollo” project provides a complete hardware and software service solution that includes a vehicle platform, hardware platform, software platform and cloud data services. Baidu will open source code and capabilities in obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, vehicle operating systems and other functions, as well as a complete set of testing tools, according to the company’s statement.
In addition, Baidu has announced a specific timetable for the progress of their self-driving project. The company says it will first open its autonomous driving technology for a restricted environment in July; it will then share its technology for cars running autonomously in simple urban road conditions towards the end of the year. Fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads will be rolled out gradually over time by 2020.
Baidu has cut several businesses in the past year to keep up with the changing market, but the self-driving car has always been one of the areas where the company has had high hopes. Baidu has set up an autonomous car team in the U.S. almost exactly one year ago. After conducting road tests on the highways and roads of Beijing, the firm had open trial operations of its autonomous car fleet in November 2016 in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province.
However, the company suffered apparent setbacks recently with the departure of several top executives on the AI and self-driving team. Andrew Ng, the former artificial intelligence scientist of the company, left last month. Shortly afterward, Wang Jin, Baidu’s senior vice-president (SVP) and former general manager of the company’s autonomous driving unit, resigned to start his own self-driving company.
From a technological perspective, Baidu, or internet companies that tapped driverless car industry in general, still has a long way to go. In a report released by Navigant, Baidu took the last place among eighteen contenders in self-driving car tech. Another internet company, Uber, came in the 16th, while top positions were taken by traditional automotive manufacturers of Ford, GM, and Renault-Nissan.