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Baidu slips into higher gear in driverless cars

By Meng Jing and Shi Xiaofeng | China Daily | Updated: 2016-11-16 07:39

Baidu slips into higher gear in driverless cars

A driverless car, developed by internet giant Baidu Inc, on display at the Light of the Internet Exposition in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, on Tuesday. The expo, part of the Third World Internet Conference, opened on Nov 15, 2016. [Photo/China Daliy]

With each passing year, the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, appears to evolve, in terms of wowing audiences and media with unprecedented, unexpected experiences.

Last year, Baidu Inc showcased its driverless car in an exhibition. The event was made memorable by Baidu CEO Robin Li, who stood next to the vehicle and, wielding a microphone with elan, introduced its features.

This year, the Wuzhen event took the art of audience-wowing to a whole new level. Media and participants were provided real-life rides in driverless vehicles. Hand it to Baidu's rapid progress in the development of new tech.

China Daily reporters took one such ride. The car was dextrous in driving itself all right. Not only was the ride smooth but precise. Its sensors accurately identified all parts of the traffic and mapped out a safe path for the car to take. The ride was so normal it took us a while to realize the car was actually driving itself, without any intervention from Baidu's staff members.

The demonstration marks Baidu's first attempt at operating driverless cars in real-life traffic situations. During the R&D phase, the Beijing-based company had carried out several road tests in China and abroad, and operated the vehicles in closed pilot zones.

Baidu has been fine-tuning its driverless technologies since late last year. It sees tremendous opportunities for artificial intelligence to reshape the traditional automobile industry.

It has announced an ambitious plan for small-scale commercialization of driverless cars in the next three years and mass production by 2021.

Wang Jin, senior vice-president and general manager of the autonomous driving unit of Baidu, said at a recent conference in Beijing that the company has made good progress in autonomous driving technology.

"The accuracy rate of cameras used to identify vehicles (on the road) is 90.13 percent now, a world record. Same time last year, it was 89.6 percent. The technology of identifying pedestrians is 95 percent accurate and that of recognizing traffic signals is 99.9 percent accurate," he said, adding Baidu will continue to strive for 100 percent accuracy.

Earlier this year, Baidu and Ford Motor Co made a multimillion-dollar investment in a major US producer of lidar sensors, a key technology that helps driverless cars "see" their surrounding environment.

The autonomous driverless technology Baidu is betting on is certainly the most complicated one, which requires several breakthroughs in technology. But many other Chinese tech companies chose to use a less "disruptive" approach to enter the automobile industry with "smarter" cars that are not smart enough to drive themselves.

In July, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd launched an internet-linked car with several advanced features. A real-time navigation system can offer relief to the driver from staring at smartphone-based navigation tools.

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