Baidu To Launch A Driverless Bus Next Year

Robin Li, the chairman and chief executive officer of Chinese online search giant Baidu, has revealed that the tech firm plans on launching a fully autonomous bus next year in China. Li was speaking during the WSJ D.Live technology event organized by The Wall Street Journal. Earlier this year Baidu unveiled Apollo, an open-source driverless-car software which it hopes will assist in turning it into a major player in the space.

According to Li, Baidu is partnering with BAIC Motor Corp in order to produce semi-autonomous vehicles running on Apollo on a mass scale by 2019. In the next four years Baidu intends to produce fully autonomous cars on a mass scale together with its business partner.

Apollo software

Baidu’s fully autonomous bus will be produced in partnership with a bus maker in China and will operate on a route that will be specially designated. The Chinese online search giant is betting on its Apollo software to lure motor vehicle manufacturers who might be put off by Google’ driverless car unit, Waymo.

According to Li Baidu’s pitch to car makers is that they will have more control over their data as well as user experience compared to Waymo’s closed system. However most industry experts are of the opinion that the technology of Google’s self-driving unit is the most advanced with its development having started in 2009.

Due to the fact that Apollo is an open source technology, the Chinese online search giant is not counting on software sales as its sole source of revenue. Li pointed out that numerous other business opportunities existed and this included writing insurance policies, selling high-definition maps, simulation systems and data.

Immersive technology experiences

In its self-driving cars Baidu will offer immersive technology experiences complete with interactive entertainment and screens. Baidu spends approximately 15% of the revenue it generates on research and development and this comes to around $1.5 billion. Most of this R&D budget goes to artificial intelligence.

Baidu’s announcement that it will be launching an autonomous bus next year comes in the wake of the online search firm joining the Hyperledger blockchain consortium, a group which is led by Linux Foundation and which concentrates on the development of blockchain technologies that can be used by enterprises. According to Zhang Xuyang, the vice president of Baidu, blockchain could assist in offering a more customized search experience.

“Over the past 17 years, we have striven to fulfill our mission by listening carefully to our users. We’re thrilled to be part of Hyperledger and look forward to collaborating with other

Baidu joins global group to advance blockchain technologies

Baidu joins global group to advance blockchain technologies

Zhang Xuyang, vice-president of Baidu.[Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Chinese tech company Baidu has become a member of Hyperledger, an open source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies, on Tuesday.

Among more than 160 members of Hyperledger, which is under Linux Foundation and which aims to create common distributed ledger technology that enables organizations to build and run robust, industry-specific applications, platforms and hardware systems to support their individual business transactions, are Accenture, Airbus, American Express, Cisco, CME Group, Daimler, IBM, Intel and J.P. Morgan.

“We’re thrilled to be part of Hyperledger and look forward to collaborating with other members to drive open blockchain solutions forward and to boost setting up of global blockchain standards,” Zhang Xuyang, vice-president of Baidu, said.

“It’s exciting to see a company like Baidu, which serves the world’s largest internet user population, join Hyperledger,” said Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Hyperledger. “Their deep understanding in connecting users to information and services will be tremendous experience for us to leverage as we look to expand our reach further in Asia and drive more global production deployments of Hyperledger technology.”

A 400 million yuan ($60.4 million) asset-backed security, which was backed by Baidu’s blockchain technology, gained approval for issue on the Shanghai Securities Exchange, Shanghai Securities News reported Aug 21. The security is the first blockchain aided exchange-traded ABS in China.

Baidu, as the technology provider, built a blockchain as a service for the security, with all participating parties on this consortium blockchain, including Baidu Finance, the security provider, the brokers, the rating agency and the law firm.

Information on the asset and on the fundraising company were both disclosed via the blockchain. Baidu also ensured the authenticity, inalterability and indestructibility of this data base via the Consensus Mechanism, an algorithm, and the asymmetric cryptography technologies, both features of the blockchain.

 

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US may curb China’s help in developing driverless cars

US President Donald Trump has touted driverless cars as a tech and investment area that can help revitalize America’s aging transport infrastructure. There’s also talk about enlisting the help of Chinese companies such as Baidu in developing such autonomous systems.

If there is to be Sino-US collaboration, Baidu is a leading candidate. The Beijing-based Web services company has grabbed the lead in developing artificial intelligence (AI) and driverless-vehicle technology in China.

But some experts say there’s a potential roadblock to Baidu’s involvement in stateside driverless-car development – US national-security concerns.

Norman Anderson, a US-based infrastructure strategist with CG/LA Infrastructure Inc in Washington, DC, notes that political opposition to Chinese investment in US technology projects may preclude participation by Baidu and other Chinese firms.

Anderson, whose consulting firm advises global infrastructure projects, warns of the dangers in giving access to what’s likely to be an increasingly sensor-driven US transport infrastructure to Chinese interests. His concern is that dependence on Chinese technology will enable China to exploit vulnerabilities in the US transport system.

Fear of ‘back door’ access

The Pentagon is already antsy about letting companies like Huawei supply chips and networking products to the US military and other agencies because of the “back door” access to sensitive data that might be embedded into such technology.

Most recently, the US military banned its personnel from operating drones made by DJI, a Shenzhen, China-based firm, because of alleged cyber vulnerabilities. The step was reportedly taken after it was found that the audio and video feeds from the drones could be accessed from servers in mainland China and Hong Kong.

Baidu’s perceived ties to China’s government may also be a hot-button issue with US regulators.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission, a strategic economic and social-planning agency, plans to fund Baidu’s development of a national deep-learning research lab, according to a post on Baidu’s Chinese WeChat account. The Chinese Internet company also cooperates with the government’s Web censorship efforts, though all Chinese firms routinely do this.

Baidu’s April acquisition of US computer vision startup xPerception also raised red flags with critics of Chinese investment in US tech firms. While the deal went through, future stateside acquisitions by Baidu may see tougher US scrutiny.

Military applications

David Garrity, a Wall Street technology analyst, notes that driverless cars have military applications. The same technology can guide drone tanks and other mobile weaponry. That would make make the US government wary of allowing Chinese firms to access stateside driverless technology. The military would also avoid tapping the technology of US firms that have Chinese shareholders.

Reports say legislation is pending in Washington to limit Chinese acquisitions or investment in US firms that specialize in artificial intelligence, electric cars and other emerging technologies on security and economic competitiveness grounds.

Against this backdrop, Anderson says, Chinese companies such as Baidu face mounting political hurdles to their participation in US-based driverless-car development. “The national-security sensitivities right now are extraordinary,” he said.

Other Chinese driverless-tech players include Internet service portal Tencent and Alibaba, the flagship company of Chinese tycoon Jack Ma. Volvo parent Geely Automotive is another big investor in the field.

Some doubt if the US can or should curb China’s access to AI such as driverless technology. “How is the US going to stop China? AI is part of a huge international effort,” said Winn Schwartau, a well-known US cyber-warfare expert.

China’s government has announced plans to pour billions into AI-driven technologies with an eye to becoming the world’s leader in AI by 2030.

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