It could propel a new parlor game: Would you prefer to ride in a completely autonomous self-driving car, like Google is building, or one like Chinese search engine Baidu’s semi-autonomous car?
Baidu confirmed today that, like Google, it is trying to reinvent driving. But instead of cars that have no steering wheels, gas pedals, or brake pedals for drivers to control, Baidu is thinking about cars with intelligent assistants who help you drive.
“This is actually an intelligent assistant collecting data from road situations,” Baidu’s Kai Yu told The Next Web. He’s deputy director of the company’s Institute of Deep Learning, a Chinese equivalent to Google’s X Labs. “A team to turn the unthinkable to reality,” the Institute’s website says.
“We don’t call this a driverless car,” he said, adding that a car “should be helping people, not replacing people, so we call this a highly autonomous car.” The first working versions are expected sometime next year.
In an irony that may not be lost on future cultural historians, the search engine giant in the land of self-reliant independence is building a car that takes over completely. And the search giant in the land with a history of huge collectives and mass thinking wants to keep the individual in control.
The Google vision, where there are no human drivers, is already becoming a reference point — either as a vision of a fun campus of the future, as in the movie Internship, or as a vision of a Silicon Valley kidnapping, as in an episode of the HBO series “Silicon Valley.”
Which is more likely?
In the former, a driverless car merrily shares a sunny day with other Googlers, while, in the latter, a driverless car picks up a passenger and makes its own decision where to go. With no controls to grab, the passenger just becomes freight.
If one had to bet on whether Google’s or Baidu’s vision is more likely, it’s hard to see how the next generation of Apple- , Android- , and Windows- enhanced cars will not start tapping into the next generation of Siri’s, Google Now’s and Cortana’s intelligence.
On the other hand, even as hands-free parking has gained popularity, the idea of a completely driverless car is already being welcomed in some quarters. Taxi service Uber has said that driverless cars are its destiny, and Johnson County in eastern Iowa has staked its claim as the first place in the U.S. to encourage driverless car testing.
But a new New Frontier in humanless vehicles is now emerging, one in which Google may already be left in the dust.
There are now reports that Baidu, eager to gain the lead on its American competitor, is developing unmanned autonomous bicycles.