After drying off, Robin Li unveils Baidu’s AV unit updates including Geely deal

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Robin Li, Baidu’s co-founder and CEO, and Li Shufu, chairman of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, announced their strategic partnership at Baidu Create AI developer conference in Beijing on July 3, 2019. (Image credit: Baidu)

A dousing of Baidu CEO Robin Li in water on stage Wednesday did little to damp the a raft of updates for the company’s autonomous driving business announced at the Baidu Create AI Developer Conference, including a strategic partnership with China’s largest privately held automaker, Geely.

“All kinds of unexpected things could happen on the road to [artificial intelligence],” Li said after a conference attendee walked onstage and emptied a water bottle over his head, “But it will not impact Baidu’s determination to move forward.”

The partnership will accelerate the intelligent transformation of the mobility industry, supporting China’s ascent as a leader in the age of smart mobility, Li said at the event. Li Shufu, chairman of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group was on hand to show his support for “shaping the future of smart mobility.”

Geely’s onboard vehicle solution GKUI19 is now powered by Baidu’s DuerOS for Apollo, a set of artificial intelligence (AI)-based internet of vehicle (IoV) solutions with voice assistant, which is available on Geely’s latest SUV model, the Boyue Pro. A number of connected applications are on offer, such as connection to Baidu’s smart home devices, online navigation using Baidu map, and in-vehicle entertainment.

Geely is not the first big OEM to ally with Chinese internet giants on smart mobility. Alibaba partnered with SAIC beginning in mid-2014 and its vehicle operating system AliOS has been installed in 600,000 SAIC-branded vehicles. Dongfeng Motor turned to Tencent for its technology capabilities in cloud services, data analysis, and AI.

In addition to Geely, Baidu has 156 auto partners including Chery, Great Wall, and Ford. The Apollo system is integrated in more than 300 vehicle models on the market to date, the company said.

“To enable a smart vehicle in a smart world, your vehicle needs to be able to interact with systems outside of it, and that means we need to put a connectivity system into that car,” Ryan McGee, a director of Ford China said June 25 at the Nanjing Innovation Fair. The US automaker began collaborating with Baidu in June 2018 and later developed its in-vehicle system SYNC+ based on Baidu’s IoV solutions. It plans to deliver connectivity to all of its new vehicle models this year, McGee added.

However, whether OEMs or tech companies will lead such collaborations is a challenging issue, Wang Jin, former head of Baidu’s self-driving unit said publicly in May. With more than 150 partners for its self-driving platform Apollo, not every car manufacturer is willing to share data with internet companies, and many of them are developing their own driverless technologies. Little progress has come as a result of these alliances, according to a Chinese media report citing a person with knowledge of the matter.

Baidu did not respond to request for comment when contacted by TechNode on Thursday.

Baidu so far has a fleet of 300 Level 4 driverless vehicles in testing across 13 cities in China with 2 million kilometers (around 1.24 million miles) driven. Level 4 is a high degree of automation where the vehicle is capable of driving under most conditions.

The company plans to debut its robotaxi program Apollo Go in the central Chinese city of Changsha later this year, and its production of Level 4 AV with FAW Hongqi is “underway.”