Baidu to hit the road with bus that drives itself

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Baidu co-founder and chief executive Robin Li (right) discusses investing in self-driving cars and fighting "fake news" at the WSJD Live tech conference in Laguna Beach, California. AFP

LAGUNA BEACH (AFP) – Baidu chief executive Robin Li on Tuesday said the Chinese internet giant will have a self-driving bus on the road soon as it races for a lead in autonomous vehicles.

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Baidu is collaborating with an array of companies on autonomous cars, and is working with a large bus maker in China to have a self-driving bus running a route by next year, Mr Li said in an on-stage interview at The Wall Street Journal D.Live conference in Laguna Beach, California.

Most major automakers and technology titans including Google-parent Alphabet have been stepping up efforts on autonomous driving in recent years, convinced that these systems could eliminate most road accidents. Apple has a testing permit in California.

US-based Tesla boasts that its models are built with the hardware for self-driving in event regulators give the technology a green light.

US chip maker Intel has a partnership with Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle unit Waymo, and plans for its own fleet of self-driving cars.

Mr Li said Baidu has a “solid plan” to have its Apollo software platform in fully-autonomous production cars by the year 2021, and in semi-autonomous cars in two years.

Apollo software will provide smarts for navigating cars, with Baidu providing information, entertainment and other online offerings to passengers, according to Mr Li.

“Our vision is that once a person is in the car, you never need to touch your phone anymore; everything in the car is a better experience,” Mr Li said.

Baidu last month announced a $1.5 billion investment in autonomous driving projects over the next three years, as it seeks to diversify its portfolio and compete with rivals.

In July, the company launched an initial version of autonomous driving platform “Apollo”.

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