Baidu is Building a 5G-Powered, 20 Square Kilometer Test Site for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles in Chongqing, China

Baidu is Building a 5G-Powered, 20 Square Kilometer Test Site for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles in Chongqing, China

Author: Eric Walz   

In the future, vehicles on the road may be able to communicate with other vehicles, traffic lights and other infrastructure, making roads safer by alerting other vehicles in real-time about current road conditions. A new experiment in China plans to test how connected or autonomous vehicles will communicate with their surroundings using ultra-fast 5G technology, China's automotive new outlet Gasgoo reports.

China's tech giant Baidu announced it received a RMB 52.8 million ($7.3 million) government contract to build an autonomous vehicle testing site within the Chinese municipality of Chongqing. The Chinese city of 30 million residents plans to be a leader in smart city technology that is powered by 5G networks.

The 20 kilometer square test region will be fully equipped with vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technology using 5G networks. Baidu plans to build road infrastructure with embedded sensors, traffic signal control systems, as well as the infrastructure to support technologies such as edge computing and data sharing capabilities.

The roadside computing units (RSCU) developed by Baidu combine various sensors with enough edge computing processing to support data volumes for two-way 8-lane intersections. The roadside devices are connected to the Baidu cloud.

The rollout of 5G communications technology that promises lightning fast communications and data transfer speeds and China is one of the first to deploy it commercially. 

In a press conference on Jan 20, Miao Wei, China's Minister of Industry and Information Technology, said that China officially started commercializing the fifth-generation mobile telecommunications technology services in October 2019. The country has already built 30,000 5G base stations across the country as of the end of 2019, according to Wei. 

As the rest of the world deals with the recent coronavirus pandemic, China continues to push forward with its 5G ambitions. The country plans to build 300,000 new 5G base stations, which may enable autonomous vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and city infrastructure.

The 5G enabled vehicle communications technology is referred to as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X), allowing vehicles to communicate with nearby traffic lights, buildings or with embedded sensors in the roadway.

The city Chongqing, like many other cities in China, is a challenging environment to test self-driving vehicles, but the smart city technology may eventually help to alleviate some of the city's traffic woes. 

Chongqing has unique terrain, with hills and valleys, and densely packed buildings, that makes it difficult for even human drivers to navigate, so the development of connected vehicle technology that supports self-driving vehicles and robotaxis might be a solution. 

Baidu says all of Chongqing's driving challenges will have to be simulated in the 20 square km test region. The end goal is to create an urban area that can support over 100 Level 4 autonomous cars. Level 4 autonomy is considered to be "fully autonomous" and the vehicles require no human intervention in the urban areas they are designed to operate in.

While the U.S. grapples with establishing government regulations surrounding the deployment of self-driving vehicles, China is already proving to be a worthy competitor and is slowly gaining ground. China's Made in China 2025 plan is aiming for 10% of all cars sold in the country to be fully autonomous by 2030.

In addition to its 5G smart city initiatives, Baidu is also developing self-driving vehicles and related technology as a part of its Apollo project. Apollo, launched in April 2017, is the world's first open autonomous driving platform designed to accelerate the development of autonomous driving by inviting industry partners to work with Baidu on it.

So far, more than 100 industry partners have joined Baidu's Apollo platform, including Chinese automakers FAW Group, Sokon and electric vehicle startup NIO. Global partners include BMW, Toyota, Ford Motor Co, Volkswagen and Daimler and Nvidia

Baidu hopes to become the world leader in autonomous driving technology and its 5G test site in Chongqing allows the tech company to test its technology in a real world urban environment.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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