Baidu Inc., China’s largest search engine firm, hopes to have its self-driving car on the road within three years.
“We will make our car commercially available in three years and have mass production in five years,” senior vice president Wang Jing (王勁) said at a Hong Kong event co-hosted on June 3 by The Wall Street Journal.
Wang said Baidu will deploy artificial intelligence (AI) and mapping technology in its driverless cars.
“Baidu has been for a long time working in AI technology, which can learn from data by itself,” he said.
Wang said maps for self-driving cars are much more precise than the usual online maps.
“Last year, our high-definition map was accurate to about 10 meters,” he said. “Now we can make it accurate within centimeters.”
In December, the internet giant completed the first test of its driverless car on public roads in Beijing.
It also carried out tests on roads in Wuhu, Anhui province, and at a closed site in Shanghai.
“We hope to extend our tests to 10 cities in China soon, to collect more data about weather, traffic and road conditions,” Wang said.
The biggest hurdle to the adoption of self-driving cars is definitely regulatory problems, he said.
“Policy and law usually lag behind technology, but I have already seen some good signs,” Wang said.
“In the US, there has been a change of law that allows the testing of self-driving cars. I hope China will follow suit.”
He said changes in the law and the traffic system will not happen overnight but will take place step by step.
Baidu’s on-the-road experiments will provide valuable information about how a self-driving car can work with traffic systems and human beings while helping push forward changes in law and insurance, he said.
Google Inc., the world’s largest search engine firm, unveiled its driverless car project in 2014.
It plans to make its cars available to the public in 2020.
Commenting on Baidu’s potential competition with Google in the self-driving car sector, Wang said the market is big enough for many players.
“I don’t think anyone can dominate this area,” he said.
Wang said Baidu has a big engineering force to develop self-driving cars in Silicon Valley and will seek to run tests with its cars in the United States in future.
“It’s hard to predict when our cars will be used on roads overseas,” he said.
“We hope we can ship them to other countries when we start mass production in five years.”
Before self-driving cars can be deployed on roads, road signs will require minor modifications, and traffic police should also be equipped with gadgets that can communicate with those cars, Wang said.
He said the use of driverless cars is good for society, as it can reduce traffic accidents and congestion.
It could also reduce the cost of owning a car, as people will be able to lease out their cars more easily, since a driver will not be needed to transport the car to the person who wants to rent it.
Although it may lead to a decline in job opportunities for drivers, it will create a lot more jobs in the computing and service sectors, Wang said.
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