As one of the world’s biggest internet companies, Baidu is homing in on autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence (AI). The tech company has a particularly strong presence in its home country of China, where it commands 70 percent of internet searches, CNBC reported.
Spurred by its interest in transportation technology, Baidu has inked partnerships with companies like Intel, Microsoft, Ford, BMW and Daimler. The company is also looking beyond China for its self-driving and AI technologies, which, according to reports, can set it “one step closer to becoming a global tech titan.” (Already, the company’s Chinese search platform ranks among the world’s most trafficked websites; Alexa Internet indicates that only Google, Facebook and YouTube have more visits.)
The news comes as a self-driving minibus service is coming to Japan in the early part of 2019, thanks to a partnership between Baidu and SoftBank unit SB Drive and bus manufacturer King Long. According to reports, the agreement was announced at the Chinese company’s AI developer conference. Under the deal, Baidu’s Apolong autonomous minibus will be shipped to Japan from China in the early part of next year.
The order, which covers 10 buses, marks the first time a self-driving vehicle is being exported from China. According to the report, the minibus has Baidu’s Apollo self-driving system capable of reaching Level 4 operations, which means it meet the SAE International standards for vehicles that can handle all driving conditions. The buses will be deployed in airports, tourist spots and other geo-fenced areas.
Prior to the announcement, Baidu announced earlier at the conference that it had begun production of minibuses in a partnership with King Long. The buses are being manufactured in King Long’s China factory. A minibus service will also be launched in Chinese cities, per reports.