Baidu Revs Up Autonomous Driving Project With $1.5 Billion Fund

James Marshall
September 22, 2017

Baidu is putting some serious cash behind its self-driving vehicle push after it announced a $1.5 billion fund that's focused on backing autonomous driving tech companies. Apollo 1.5 is the most recent version of open-source self-driving vehicle software.

Since its launch, more than 1,300 companies have downloaded Apollo's code and almost 100 companies have applied for open data via the Apollo website, according to the company's statement issued on Wednesday.

The release of Apollo 1.5 happened in April, which expanded Baidu's autonomous driving technology to external third parties as an open platform providing secure and reliable solutions for autonomous vehicles.

Apollo is Baidu's autonomous driving platform, with Chinese and worldwide 70 partners so far, including latest members Hyundai Motor, ROS, esd electronics, Neousys Technology and autonomous driving startups Momenta and iDriver+ Technologies.

The new Apollo 1.5 software opens five more core capabilities that include planning, cloud simulation, obstacle perception, end to end deep learning and high-definition maps.

Baidu opened the platform to third parties hoping it would quicken its technology development and enable the company to compete with United States rivals such as Tesla and Google's Waymo project that have already heavily invested in the area. The company has even signed more than 50 cooperation agreements with Apollo partners on mass production or joint product development plans.

Baidu released its news about self-driving vehicles after joining forces with China Life Insurance Co.to launch a private equity fund of $1 billion targeting new investment opportunities in artificial intelligence, the Internet, online finance as well as mobility sectors, during August.

Named after the United States Apollo missions to the moon, Baidu's system is being dubbed the "Android of the auto industry" by opening its autonomous vehicle software in the same way that Google released its Android operating system for smartphones.

The company plans to release the first driverless auto next year and mass production is expected to begin by 2021.

Despite the rapid growth of its partner ecosystem, Baidu has faced challenges negotiating local Chinese regulations, which have previously stopped the company from testing on highways. At the event, Baidu also disclosed that it has added 17 new partners to the Apollo program, bringing the total to 70.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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