The government of China’s capital of Beijing has given the tech giant Baidu the go ahead to begin testing self-driving vehicles on city streets there.
The news marks a first with regard to legal testing of self-driving vehicles on the public roads of China’s capital city, and makes it clear that even if Uber’s seeming negligence in the US (which resulted in a pedestrian fatality) holds things up there for a while, other countries will continue pursuing the commercialization of the tech.
Uber’s arguable negligence of course doesn’t necessarily reveal anything about the self-driving systems being developed by Waymo/Google and GM/Cruise — which by all accounts that I’ve seen seem to be superior. That said, Uber’s actions may end up tarring the tech as a whole in the realm of public image … for all of a couple of months. It’s likely that, after that, people will forget completely and move onto the next sideshow. (Which is unfortunate for the woman who was killed, and her friends/family.)
Back to the subject at hand, Baidu has now been granted approval to test its autonomous vehicles on 33 different roads in Beijing — altogether representing around 105 kilometers (65 miles) worth of road, most of which is in the city’s suburbs. This testing will be watched closely, it seems.
Baidu, for those unfamiliar with it, is essentially China’s equivalent of Google. As a result, it has substantial monetary resources at its disposal and has preferred access to skilled and talented labor in this field.
“Baidu is leading China’s push in driverless technology, with Beijing keen to keep up with global rivals such as Waymo, the self-driving arm of Google parent Alphabet, and Tesla. It has a major self-driving project called Apollo,” Reuters notes.
“Two people close to DiDi Chuxing, China’s dominant ride-hailing company which is also working on self-driving, said earlier this week firms developing autonomous vehicles were not likely to slow down plans for testing and developing.”
On that note, Baidu is reportedly planning to begin the initial rollout of self-driving vehicles on public roads in China by 2019. Waymo/Google began just such service recently in Arizona, and Nissan has begun very limited pilot project service along the same lines in Japan as well.