Apollo’s race to Autonomous
Not only Tencent and Softbank are rubbing shoulders with the ecosystem of autonomous driving, also Baidu (or “China’s Google”) is relentlessly looking for new partnerships and synergies. It’s Baidu’s objective to become the number one platform for autonomous vehicles or, in laymen’s terms, the “Windows” or “iOS” for autonomous cars.
What is Apollo
In order to facilitate its objectives, Baidu has developed “Project Apollo”. Apollo is an open platform that consists of different components: a turnkey solution, cloud service platforms, an open software platform, a hardware development platform and an open vehicle certificate platform.
The combination of these platforms is what will be powering autonomous vehicles in the future.
Similar to what Softbank and Tencent are doing, Baidu has also created an investment fund (called the “RMB Equity Investment Fund”) that is used to support start-ups. Baidu aims to invest the equivalent of US$ 1.5 billion in 100 start-ups; these young companies will be incentivised to develop their ideas on the Apollo platforms rather than on independent environments.
The list of Apollo partners is impressive; well over a hundred tech companies, OEMs and other suppliers clearly don’t want to miss out on the opportunity. Just to name a few: BAIC, Blackberry, BMW, Bosch, Continental, Daimler, Ford, Great Wall, Grab, PSA, Intel, Jaguar Land Rover, Tomtom, VW and Volvo.
Using an open platform is especially attractive for Apollo’s partners; the platform evolves much faster than a closed commercial ecosystem. Baidu’s roadmap is extremely ambitious, but they’re on schedule to put the first production-level self-driving vehicles on the Beijing roads by 2019, launch the first simple city road self-driving vehicles by 2020 and cover both city and highway with fully autonomous vehicles by 2021.
Ford, VW & Volvo
Ford’s self-driving system has already been fitted into Apollo and, as a next step, Baidu and Ford will be testing autonomous vehicles on the Chinese road for a period of 2 years. Volvo, owned by the Chinese Geely, and Baidu will be mass-producing level 4 autonomous vehicles, although a timeline or more specific information on the type of vehicles is not available today.
Volkswagen also announced an integration of the e-Golf onto Baidu's platform, developing automated parking services, like Valet Parking for the EV.
Also BAIC and Red Flag have signed up with Baidu to mass produce vehicles. Xiamen based bus manufacturer King Long, 金龙, is already testing autonomous minibuses across 10 cities in China.
Baidu is also looking into collaborations with Chinese cities and has closed a first deal with the city of Changsha (in the province of Hunan, geographically in the middle between Shanghai and the Vietnamese border) to develop and roll-out self-driving solutions.