Baidu chief scientist Andrew Ng believes that self-driving cars could be commercialized by 2019, with mass production able to be started in 2021.
The timeframe has drawn skepticism from several automakers, as they think driverless cars won't be ready to hit the streets by 2020. Instead of fully autonomous cars, companies such as Mercedes-Benz and Toyota think customers should look forward to improvements in driver assistance features.
In the Converge technology conference of The Wall Street Journal, Baidu senior VP Wang Jing backed Ng's predictions by saying that the company is planning to mass produce driverless cars within five years.
Baidu is already testing prototype models of its self-driving car on public roads in the Chinese cities of Wuhu and Beijing and in a closed testing facility in Shanghai. Wang is hoping that the vehicle could be tested across 10 cities in China, so that the car would be able to experience different traffic, road and weather conditions.
Wang, however, said that the details on how the driverless cars would communicate with the other vehicles on the road, whether human-driven or similarly autonomous, are still not set in stone.
The greatest benefit the technology would bring about would be improved safety and increased ride sharing. Wang noted that 93 percent of the accidents that occur in China are due to human errors, and that Baidu is open to creating partnerships with ride-sharing companies over the autonomous cars.
Wang also said he is hoping for China and other countries to become more accommodating to self-driving vehicles, as laws and policies are hindering the development of the technology.
Baidu announced in April that it has established its own research and development center for self-driving car technology in Silicon Valley, in a location near rival search engine Google's office.
Google is also making its own self-driving car, but Wang believes the space is big enough for both companies to operate in the industry.