Chinese tech behemoth Baidu is ramping up production of its self-driving car platform. Today at the 2018 Baidu Create developer conference in Beijing, the company announced it’s partnering with Intel to integrate and deploy Israeli developer Mobileye’s technology into Project Apollo, Baidu’s autonomous vehicle solution.
Specifically, Baidu said that it’ll merge Mobileye’s Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) model into the codebases of the commercial Apollo Drive program and Apollo Pilot (the deployment version of Project Apollo), and that it’ll work jointly to publish updates to the model as development progresses. It also said that it’ll adopt Mobileye’s Surround Computer Vision Kit as the preferred perception solution in Project Apollo.
“At Mobileye, safety assurance of automated vehicles is one of the most important issues facing the AV industry,” Jack West, chief systems architect for Intel’s Autonomous Driving Program, said in a statement, “and we are pleased Baidu has agreed to join us in this effort to deliver verifiable safety of AV decision-making into the China market.”
Baidu announced Apollo, which it pitches as an “open, secure, and reliable self-driving ecosystem,” in April 2017, and in the intervening months the company brought on 116 partners, including Nvidia, NXP, and Renesas. Baidu claims the project’s GitHub repository, which has more than 10,000 developers, is the “most vibrant” of its kind in the industry.
Apollo 3.0, the latest iteration, includes new solutions supporting valet parking, autonomous mini buses, and autonomous microcars. And it integrates with Baidu’s voice-activated telematics software, which can perform facial recognition, monitor drivers for signs of fatigue, and provide other personalized services.
“Apollo 3.0 marks a new era for the volume production of autonomous vehicles,” Zhenyu Li, Vice President and General Manager of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, said in a statement. “We believe that safety is the foundation of volume production. Apollo will continue to work with our partners to push forward the transition to intelligent vehicles from traditional vehicles.”
At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Baidu unveiled Apollo’s second major iteration, Apollo 2.0, which introduced new reference vehicles, an encrypted framework for over-the-air updates, improved computer vision algorithms, and a system that can better determine where a vehicle is on the road. In April it took the wraps off Apollo 2.5, which implemented improved vision-based perception, real-time relative mapping, new driving scenarios, and visual debugging tools.
Coinciding with the rollout of Apollo 2.5, Baidu launched an automotive security lab in partnership with China Automotive Technology and Research Center and China Academy of Information and Communications.
Tel Aviv, Israel-based Mobileye, which Intel acquired in a $15.3 billion deal last April, proposed RSS last October at the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul, South Korea. An accompanying whitepaper describes it as a “deterministic … formula” with “logically provable” rules of the road intended to prevent self-driving vehicles from causing accidents. Less abstractly, in press materials Intel characterizes it as a “common sense” approach to on-the-road decision-making that codifies good habits, like maintaining a safe following distance and giving other cars the right of way.
“The ability to assign fault is the key. Just like the best human drivers in the world, self-driving cars cannot avoid accidents due to actions beyond their control,” Amnon Shashua, Mobileye CEO and Intel senior vice president, said in a statement last year. “But the most responsible, aware, and cautious driver is very unlikely to cause an accident of his or her own fault, particularly if they had 360-degree vision and lightning-fast reaction times like autonomous vehicles will.”
RSS is defined in software, unlike Mobileye’s Surround Computer Vision Kit, which principally consists of hardware. It’s a 12-camera array comprising three forward-looking cameras, one rear-facing camera, and a slew of perimeter cameras designed for autonomous cars. It has a range of more than 300 yards, Mobileye claims, and ships with a proprietary hardware and software solution that constructs a real-time view of the vehicle’s surroundings.
Alongside today’s announcement, Baidu said that it’s begun volume production of Apolong, China’s first Level 4 fully autonomous bus.
The 14-seater Apolong, which was developed in partnership with Chinese bus manufacturer King Long and first announced at Baidu World in November, will be deployed later this year in cities including Beijing, Shenzhen, Pingtan and Wuhan in “last-mile scenarios” in tourist spots and airports. Baidu said that it’s teaming up with SB Drive, tech firm SoftBank’s autonomous driving subsidiary, to bring Apolong minibuses to Japan in early 2019.
“2018 marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving,” Baidu Chairman and CEO Robin Li said. “From the volume production of Apolong, we can truly see that autonomous driving is making great strides -taking the industry from zero to one.”
Today’s announcements are huge win for Mobileye, which controls roughly 70 percent of the current advanced driver-assistance market. (It’s already being used by major brands like Nissan, BMW, and Volkswagen.) By 2019, it expects over 100,000 Level 3 cars — vehicles that are capable of taking full control in specific scenarios like highway driving — to have the company’s technology installed.
They’re also good news for Baidu, which seeks to gain the upper hand over rivals like Tencent and Alibaba. In April, Alibaba confirmed that it has been conducting self-driving car tests with the goal of achieving Level 4 autonomous capability and said that it’s looking to hire as many as 50 engineers for its AI research lab. And in May, Tencent secured a license from the Chinese government to begin testing autonomous cars in Shenzhen, China.
Both Baidu and Mobileye are racing toward a veritable goldmine of a market. Autonomous vehicles and mobility services in China are expected to be worth more than $500 billion by 2030, according to a McKinsey report, when roughly 8 million self-driving cars hit public roads.
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