When German and Chinese automotive powers combine, they can end up beating Silicon Valley's best and brightest.
Baidu, often touted as China's Google, has partnered up withBMW to create its first autonomous vehicle.
The company reports that it just completed the first successful tests of its driverless car through the streets of Beijing. Using a revamped BMW 3 Series, Baidu's road tests included a complex set of driving instructions while the vehicle had to respond to its surroundings.
"Fully autonomous driving under mixed road conditions is universally challenging, with complexity further heightened by Beijing's road conditions and unpredictable driver behavior," says Wang Jing, the SVP of Baidu and General Manager of Baidu's Autonomous Driving Business Unit.
Previously, however, Baidu's chief scientist Andrew Ng had a close call in one of the autonomous vehicles. Proving that anything can happen and that it will happen, another vehicle had suddenly swerved in front of the driverless car with Ng in the passenger seat.
"I was glad our driver hit the brakes, but then I found out it was the car that did it automatically," Ng said. "If I had been driving, we would have hit the car in front."
In its latest successful test drive, Baidu's BMW 3 Series came equipped with software the company calls Baidu AutoBrain. The software serves as the core of Baidu's driverless car technology which makes use of highly automated driving maps, positioning, detection, and smart decision making and control.
The technology thus helped the BMW maneuver the 18.6-mile route that began at Baidu's Beijing corporate offices near Zhongguancun Science Park in Haidian District, through to the G7 highway, Fifth Ring Road, Olympic Park, and finally rerouting back to where it began at Baidu's homebase. Along the way, the Baidu's car traversed across side streets, made left and right turns, switched lanes, and overtook other regular cars, even merging onto and off traffic along highways as fast as 62mph.
In development since 2013, Baidu joins Google, and Tesla in the race to bring self-driving vehicles to the masses.
David Villarreal Fernández | Flickr