Baidu follows in Google’s tracks in race to develop self-driving cars

Chinese group says prototype will differ from Google’s car as it lets driver take over

Chinese firm Baidu aims to follow Google with a self-driving car, having already announced plans for a copycat version of Google Glass - provisionally dubbed Baidu Eye.

Chinese firm Baidu aims to follow Google with a self-driving car, having already announced plans for a copycat version of Google Glass - provisionally dubbed Baidu Eye.

Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 01:00

Chinese search engine Baidu, which has looked to mimic US technology giant Google’s biggest innovations, is now experimenting with its own version of a self-driving car.

Baidu has branched out into web browsers, produced street-view maps and plans a copycat version of Google Glass - provisionally dubbed Baidu Eye.

Its latest project is a car that will be “highly autonomous” rather than completely driverless, and include an “intelligent assistant” to aid the driver.

Google’s car prototype dispensed with steering wheels and pedals. It has few controls, and the only manual override is a red panic button to stop the vehicle.

But Kai Yu, Baidu’s vice-director of research, compared Baidu’s car with a “horse” that would guide itself unless the driver wanted to take over.

Although still in development, Baidu said its prototype currently consisted of one of its street view filming cars fitted with an array of sensors and cameras. It said the car had already been careering around the group’s campus in Beijing.

Baidu started the car project earlier this year as one of several research and development schemes designed to utilise its mapping service and gather data about Chinese road travel.

Mr Yu described the technology as more akin to an assistant that would use information from Baidu’s databases of locations and road conditions to plan routes.

“This is an intelligent assistant collecting data from road situations and then operating locally,” Mr Yu told The Next Web, a technology blog.

“We don’t call this a driverless car. I think a car should be helping people, not replacing people, so we call this a highly autonomous car.”

Google decided to dispense with driver controls after engineers found it was easier to design a car that controlled itself all the time, rather than one that shifted back and forth between manual and autopilot.

“People should still enjoy the experience of driving,” said Baidu.

Xin Haiguang, a Chinese internet expert, said Baidu’s troves of Chinese data were crucial to the project’s success.

But Mr Xin questioned whether driverless cars were suitable for congested Chinese roads, where aggressive driving is routine. “In China, we have to work with more disorderly street conditions . . . so it is much harder.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014