Chinese search engine leader Baidu Inc, widely known as the Google of China, is following in the Western Internet giant’s footsteps by working on its own version of a self-driving car. The Beijing-based company confirmed it has initiated the project. But compared with Google’s innovation, which requires no driver at all, Baidu’s car will be “highly autonomous”, serving mainly as an aid to drivers.
Yu Kai, the head of Baidu’s Institute of Deep Learning, said in a recent interview that Baidu’s car is “semi-self-driving”. Compared with Google’s prototype, which has no steering wheel or pedals, Baidu’s car is more like a “horse” that would guide itself unless the driver wanted to take over.
According to Yu, the car under development will be equipped with radar, camera and sensors, as well as a navigation system. The car can automatically drive itself as soon as a destination is entered into the navigation system. The sensors will upload traffic conditions, and using big data technology, the car will make its own decisions about such things as direction and driving speed. A prototype is expected next year.
The aim of the project is to improve driving safety through the help of big data and artificial intelligence, Yu said.
Xin Haiguang, an independent Chinese Internet expert, said that the project is in line with Baidu’s strengths in big data and human-computer interaction.
“Baidu is a search company. It has strong advantages in gathering and processing data. Search engines basically offer answers to people after data analysis. The car is practically doing the same thing by making driving decisions after analyzing traffic conditions.”
The development of a self-driving car is not the first project Baidu has copied from Google. Media reports last year showed it also is working on a project called Baidu Eye, which is similar to Google Glass. In March, Baidu hired Andrew Ng, founder of the “Google Brain,” to run its artificial intelligence labs.
“Companies like Baidu, Google and Facebook all generate revenue through advertising. Therefore, it is natural for Baidu to be pursuing a similar strategy to Google’s, because the more information you have about people, the more that you can earn in advertising revenue from them,” said Neil Flynn, head equity analyst at Shanghai-based Chineseinvestors.com, a leading financial analysis firm of US-listed Chinese companies.
“If you had a self-driving car, Google would, for example, recognize that you tend to go to a pizza restaurant every Tuesday at 7 pm, and could therefore advertise local pizzerias to you every Tuesday at 6:30 pm. By having products that users can use in every aspect of their lives, Google can understand each of its users in depth and develop an optimal advertising strategy for each individual,” he said.
Google has greatly diversified businesses, from self-driving cars to home appliances and Android mobile operating systems.
“As diverse as these are, they will all be fundamentally used by Google to collect data about its users,” Flynn said.
Baidu seems to be moving in a similar direction, fueled by heavy investment in research and development. Its recently released second quarter financial report showed that its R & D expenditure surged nearly 85 percent year-on-year to 1.737 billion yuan ($280 million) between April and June.