Baidu – China’s equivalent of Google – has launched a $1.5 billion fund for autonomous car technology.
The company’s newly established Apollo Fund will invest in 100 autonomous driving projects in the next three years.
Meanwhile, Baidu has unveiled the latest iteration of its Apollo open-source autonomous driving platform, Apollo 1.5. The Apollo platform has gathered 70 partner companies so far.
Building on Apollo 1.0, Baidu says Apollo 1.5 opens up five additional core capabilities which include:
- obstacle perception;
- cloud simulation;
- high-definition maps; and
- end-to-end deep learning.
Baidu says these new features provide “more comprehensive solutions to developers and ecosystem partners to accelerate the deployment of autonomous driving”.
The obstacle perception capability enables vehicles to accurately identify obstacles during both day and night.
With the planning capability, vehicles can plan the correct driving path and make optimal driving decisions.
The cloud simulation system on Apollo is the only platform that provides open, built-in HD maps tailored for autonomous driving.
Based on large-scale cloud computing capacity, Apollo has a vast amount of real traffic data in China, and has a virtual running capacity of 1 million kilometers per day, says Baidu.
Baidu says Apollo is widely regarded as the “Android of the auto industry”.
First announced in April, Apollo is an open platform developed to provide a comprehensive, secure, and reliable all-in-one solution that supports all major features and functions of an autonomous vehicle.
Its first iteration, Apollo 1.0, with capabilities enabling vehicles to do autonomous waypoint driving in enclosed venues, was announced in July at Baidu’s inaugurate AI Developers Conference in Beijing.
Over the past 2 months, Apollo has seen dozens of code updates each week and the addition of more than 65,000 lines of new code.
At the same time, Apollo has received a positive response from global developers.
To date, more than 1,300 companies have downloaded Apollo source code and nearly 100 companies have applied for open data via the Apollo website.
Apollo has attracted 70 global and Chinese partners, including original equipment manufacturers, Tier 1 suppliers, developer platforms and technology start-ups.
Newly joined members include Hyundai Motor, ROS, esd electronics, Neousys Technology, and autonomous driving startups such as Momenta and iDriver+ Technologies.
Many of those partnerships have already begun to bear fruit. Baidu has signed over 50 cooperation agreements with Apollo partners on mass production or joint product development plans.
King Long, a Xiamen-based commercial vehicle manufacturer, performed autonomous waypoint driving in enclosed venues using buses deployed with Apollo’s 1.0 capabilities.
Momenta, a Beijing-based autonomous driving startup, successfully conducted testing on designated lanes using Apollo 1.5 enabled cars, which were able to accurately recognize obstacles, passengers, and make optimal decisions even at night when visibility is very low.
At an event yesterday, Baidu and Velodyne, a developer of lidar – light detection and radar – sensors, jointly announced that Velodyne will provide Apollo ecosystem members with priority access to product information, technical support as well as a shorter lead time to product purchase.
Baidu will also partner with Udacity, a Silicon Valley based online education platform, to foster autonomous talent globally by introducing autonomous courses, certifications, special competitions and talent services.