Baidu’s probably better known as the Google of China, but the Beijing-based Internet giant today revealed plans to invest in autonomous car technology from its base in Silicon Valley.
The company announced that it now has a team working on research and development (R&D) and testing around smart cars, and it plans to grow its self-driving automobile team to more than 100 people by the end of 2016. This will include researchers and engineers, who will work as part of Baidu’s new Autonomous Driving Unit (ADU).
“Baidu is fully committed to making self-driving cars a reality,” said Jing Wang, senior vice president of Baidu and general manager of its new ADU arm, in a press release. “Autonomous vehicles will save lives and make transportation more efficient. Baidu’s Silicon Valley car team will play a significant role in building the car of the future.”
The move does not come as a complete surprise, however. Back in December, Baidu claimed its self-driving car had “successfully completed rigorous, fully autonomous tests… under a variety of environmental conditions” in China. It also revealed plans to put self-driving buses on the roads within three years. Back in March, the company revealed it was looking to test-drive cars on U.S. roads.
Baidu is the latest in a line of tech and automobile companies to explore autonomous car technology. In January, General Motors (GM), the century-old brand behind classic cars such as Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and Vauxhall, invested $500 million in ride-sharing company Lyft, while also revealing plans to build self-driving cars. Later GM acquired a self-driving car startup called Cruise Automation for what was reported to be around $1 billion.
Baidu has already invested big in Uber as part of the etaxi company’s push into China, a move that built on the duo’s existing strategic partnership. And when you factor in the likes of Uber and Google, which are both building self-driving cars, and Apple, which is reportedly in the early stages of developing autonomous car technology, it’s clearer than ever that Baidu doesn’t want to be left behind.
The new wing will work alongside Baidu’s existing teams in the Valley, including Baidu Research, with specialists across robotics, computer vision, sensors, and more.