Google, Tesla, Ford, General Motors and every other company developing autonomous vehicles should watch out — Baidu is mashing the dash and accelerating its plans to do the same.
What's more significant is the Chinese search engine company is doing it in their backyard of the United States. Baidu's chief scientist Andrew Ng told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week that the company will soon begin testing its self-driving cars in the states, vying to have a model ready to impact roads by 2018.
That year is the same target that Tesla has set, too, while it's two years ahead of Google and other companies' 2020 aim to have autonomous vehicles on the road. The move to test autonomous vehicles in the U.S. more than makes sense, considering Ng has already been leading a growing staff of 160 in Sunnyvale, Calif., the heart of Silicon Valley, and that his Stanford lab developed the "robot operating system," as reported by the Journal. He also remains an assistant professor at Stanford, so his presence in the U.S. has been there.
However, just like Google, GM, Tesla and other companies imploring regulators to build uniform laws for autonomous cars, Baidu too, is pushing for better coordination with the U.S. government to ensure that it's able to free itself from impending red tape and regulation entanglement to get its self-driving cars on the road.
That being said, Ng wasn't present Tuesday, when Google and other auto execs developing vehicles with autonomy convened at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in Washington, D.C. to attend a hearing called Hands Off: The Future of Self-Driving Cars, held before Senator John Thune and his peers.
There, Chris Urmson, the director of Google's Self-Driving Car Project, led the charge in pushing Congress to develop uniform national laws for autonomous vehicles to ensure they're available to the public and impact roads sooner rather than later.
Baidu plans on having self-driving shuttles run in a loop in a designated area in China by 2018, but Ng admits that its vehicles' artificial intelligence may still not be able to differentiate subtle things like comprehending a police officer screaming through a bullhorn — a situation that a human driver absolutely would be able to deal with and react to quickly.
"The [A.I.] is good enough where the changes to infrastructure are modest," Ng told the Journal. "Maybe in the distant future, we could make it drive like a human driver, but not in two years."