On July 4th, Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU)announced its plans to export self-driving buses to Japan by early 2019. This marks the first time ever for autonomous vehicles to be exported from China.
The autonomous buses are called Apolong and seat up to 14 passengers, run on electric power, and travel up to 62 miles with a two-hour charge. They are powered by Apollo, Baidu’s open autonomous driving platform. In October 2017, Baidu started working with King Long, a commercial vehicle manufacturer, to develop and produce these vehicles. On Wednesday, the 100th Apolong was finished at the Xiamen King Long United Automotive Industry factory in Xiamen, Fujian province. Baidu will also team up with Intel’s Mobileye to incorporate Mobileye’s Responsibility Sensitive Safety and Surround Computer Vision Kit which adds to Apollo’s perception and decision-making system.
Exporting the autonomous buses to Japan was made possible in partnership with SB Drive, a subsidiary of SoftBank. They plan to use 10 Apolongs for demonstration tests. Prior to this, SB Drive purchased self-drive vehicles from Navya, a French start-up company, and tested them at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The Navya buses held level 3 automation, meaning that a driver must be present to intervene in certain scenarios. Apolong is a level 4 autonomous car, meaning it can operate without any human input under certain conditions. Level 5 has not been reached yet.
At Baidu Create, the Company’s annual developer conference, Robin Li, Chief Executive Officer stated that, “2018 marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving.” Baidu plans to use the cars in Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Wuhan, among others. They also envision the cars being used at airports and tourist sites. Currently, Baidu is testing the vehicles in Xiongan New Area.