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Baidu To Open-Source Autonomous Driving Platform Apollo to Spur Industry Innovation

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Baidu, Inc. today announced that it will open-source its autonomous driving platform, named “Apollo” to provide an open, complete and reliable software platform for its partners in the automotive and autonomous driving industry. Baidu is the first among the major global technology players to open its technology and platform to the industry.

A number of technology giants are active in the autonomous driving field including Google and Apple. However, most major players have worked independently or are maintained complete control over their technology. Baidu is the first among the major players to open its technology and platform to the broader industry.

Currently, only a few autonomous driving platforms are open source. Autoware, largely built by the Japanese engineers, is an open-source software for urban autonomous driving. Udacity’s open source self-driving car project kicked off last year, as did Elcano, an autonomous driving software for ultralight vehicles, such as passenger tricycle.

For Baidu, by opening up its autonomous driving technology to the industry, it aims to build a collaborative ecosystem, utilizing its strengths in artificial intelligence (AI) technology to work together with other companies to promote the development and popularization of autonomous driving technology.

“AI has great potential to drive social development, and one of AI’s biggest opportunities is intelligent vehicles,” said Qi Lu, Group President and Chief Operating Officer at Baidu.

Anning Chen, General Manager of Chinese car maker Chery, said Baidu’s opening of its platform is of great significance to the automotive industry. He said cooperation between car brands and internet technology companies in autonomous driving would gradually generate greater innovations and benefit both sides with more data and technology sharing.

The name of the project “Apollo” was borrowed from the Apollo lunar landing program — a ground-breaking project that brought together multiple forces for the benefit of society, the company said. Baidu believes autonomous driving is similar in terms of its potential to transform the world.

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.

Baidu will first open its autonomous driving technology for 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. Finally, it will gradually introduce fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads over time by 2020.

The company will also initiate a partnership alliance, working with partners who will provide the best and most compatible vehicles, sensors, and other components, to achieve broad participation and collaboration and to provide references and recommendations to participants of a rapidly expanding ecosystem enabled by Project Apollo.

This will lower the barriers to entry for research and development of autonomous driving technologies, making it more accessible to the general public, and accelerate the overall pace of innovation.

Baidu has invested heavily in the research and development of autonomous driving technology since 2015. In December 2015, Baidu conducted successful road tests for its fully autonomous cars on the highways and roads of Beijing. Baidu received an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit for California in September 2016, and conducted open trial operations of its autonomous car fleet in November 2016 at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, where over 200 guest passengers were able to take the cars for a ride.

“China is the world’s largest market for automotive sales and production. It has many car brands and an open environment that is ripe for collaboration. Baidu took the initiative to open our autonomous driving technology to the industry in order to encourage greater innovation and opportunities, making better use of our technology to drive the evolution of the entire industry,” added Lu Qi.

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