China's Baidu Plans to Launch an 'Intelligent' Electric Vehicle Co. in a Partnership With Volvo Owner Geely
Like Google has done in the U.S., China's internet search giant Baidu Inc. has expanded its core business and is now working on self-driving cars and other advanced mobility via its open Apollo autonomous driving project. Now the company announced plans to bundle its advanced technology into a purposefully-built electric vehicle.
Baidu announced on Sunday it plans to establish a company to produce "intelligent" electric vehicles (EV) and has entered into a strategic partnership with Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group ("Geely"), the parent company of Swedish automaker Volvo. Geely also holds a stake in Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler.
Baidu said it will provide the intelligent technology that will power the passenger vehicles for its new venture. Geely, which is one of China's best-selling automotive brands, will contribute its expertise in automobile design and manufacturing at scale.
Reports of Baidu planning to jointly develop an electric vehicle began surfacing in mid December.
Baidu's partnership with Geely will be the latest example of a tech company partnering with an established automaker to jumpstart the development of advanced automotive technology, such as autonomous driving and 5G connected car technology, which are poised to transform the auto industry.
In 2016, U.S. automaker General Motors acquired a stake in San Francisco-based self-driving startup Cruise. GM's rival Ford Motor Co. announced a $1 billion investment in Pittsburgh-based autonomous driving startup Argo AI in 2017 to help jumpstart its work on autonomous driving technology.
Building a purposefully-built electric vehicle from the ground up makes sense for Baidu, as all of the hardware and sensors that supports automated driving and cellular connectivity can be installed more seamlessly during production instead of adding it after.
"As a top Chinese automaker with global reach, Geely has the unique experience and resources to design, produce and market energy-efficient, reliable and safe automobiles in large scale. We believe that by combining Baidu's expertise in smart transportation, connected vehicles and autonomous driving with Geely's expertise as a leading automobile and EV manufacturer, the new partnership will pave the way for future passenger vehicles," said Robin Li, Co-founder and CEO of Baidu.
Since 2017, Baidu has been actively developing autonomous driving technology as part of its open Apollo platform. Apollo is a comprehensive, secure, all-in-one, complete autonomous driving ecosystem which supports all major functions of a self-driving car.
The Apollo platform is designed to speed up the development of self-driving technology through collaboration between industry partners. Since its launch, Baidu's Apollo is widely regarded as the "Android" of the automotive industry.
With Apollo, Baidu has made great progress on the development of Level-4 autonomous technology in just over three years. Baidu's Apollo platform has released 600,000 lines of open source code and 45,000 developers have signed on to collaborate on autonomous driving development.
Since its launch, more than 100 companies have joined Apollo, including Geely, Mercedes Benz, BMW and Toyota.
In March 2018, Baidu announced the release of "Apollo Scape", billed as the world's largest open-source dataset for autonomous driving technology. The dataset eliminates the time it takes for manual data collection. Datasets are typically used in machine learning for regression and classification tasks for self-driving vehicles.
Baidu is developing autonomous driving technology, including driverless robotaxis, under its open Apollo platform.
Baidu also built the world's first production-ready compute platform specifically for autonomous vehicles called the "Apollo Computing Unit" (ACU) which may be used in a electric vehicle built by Geely. All of the ACU's components meet automotive-grade production requirements. Baidu said the production capacity of the ACU is 200,000 units a year.
Baidu is also working on connected vehicle technology as well as an autonomous robotaxi service called Apollo Go.
During a presentation at the annual Baidu World conference in September, Zhenyu Li, Corporate Vice President of Baidu and General Manager of it Intelligent Driving Group (IDG), demonstrated Apollo's advanced self-driving technology, which included a livestream demonstration of Baudi's fully-automated robotaxis operating without human safety drivers behind the wheel.
The AI-powered system developed by Baidu can independently control the vehicle without human intervention, a breakthrough that Baidu said will accelerate the large-scale deployment of autonomous driving technology across China.
In May, Baidu opened what it calls the world's largest intelligent vehicle infrastructure cooperative System (IVICS) in China to support these efforts. The comprehensive test site is called "Apollo Park" and supports the development of autonomous vehicles, as well as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology supported by 5G connection speeds, which allows vehicles to communicate with each other as well as to urban infrastructure, such as traffic lights.
Apollo Park can support all of the functions associated with self-driving vehicles and connected cars, including cloud computing for analyzing big data, operational command, maintenance and research & development.
The missing piece for Baidu is building an intelligent electric vehicle from the ground up with an established automaker that's powered by the company's autonomous driving technology.
"At Baidu, we have long believed in the future of intelligent driving and have over the past decade invested heavily in AI to build a portfolio of world-class self-driving services. China has become the world's largest market for EVs, and we are seeing EV consumers demanding next generation vehicles to be more intelligent." said Li.
The news comes after computer giant Apple Inc reportedly is working to build an electric vehicle with South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co. A deal between Apple and Hyundai to build an Apple-branded EV could happen as early as this year.
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