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BMW's Chinese Robocar Tests Will Use Baidu's Maps

Superdetailed maps are key to self-driving cars, and in China, Baidu can provide them

1 min read
BMW's Chinese Robocar Tests Will Use Baidu's Maps
Photo: Krzysztof Dydynski/Getty Images

BMW is collaborating with the Chinese search-engine giant Baidu to provide its experimental self-driving cars with maps of select Chinese roads. And that's just as you'd expect, given that no self-driving car can manage without digital maps, and Baidu is the company that best provides them in China.

Maps are what drew Google (that other search-engine firm) to launch its pioneering robotic car project. Not the kind of maps that you now call up on your smart phone to guide you to your destination but maps that show the roads and what's alongside them, warts and all. That means every exit ramp, every driveway, and every curb.

A self-driving car must be able to perceive things itself, of course. But, like an NBA shooter on the basketball court, it also needs a clear sense of where it is.

One day, cars may have computer memories capacious enough to store detailed maps of all the roads in China. But even then they will need to be updated constantly to include changes, including changes as small as new lines painted on pavement and as large as the closing of a lane because of repair work.

Therefore, no amount of memory can free robotic cars from the need to talk to the road and to each other. Nor is any preinstalled feature likely to deprive Baidu and Google of a continuing stream of profits.

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A photo shows separated components of the axial flux motor in the order in which they appear in the finished motor.

The heart of any electric motor consists of a rotor that revolves around a stationary part, called a stator. The stator, traditionally made of iron, tends to be heavy. Stator iron accounts for about two-thirds of the weight of a conventional motor. To lighten the stator, some people proposed making it out of a printed circuit board.

Although the idea of replacing a hunk of iron with a lightweight, ultrathin, easy-to-make, long-lasting PCB was attractive from the outset, it didn’t gain widespread adoption in its earliest applications inside lawn equipment and wind turbines a little over a decade ago. Now, though, the PCB stator is getting a new lease on life. Expect it to save weight and thus energy in just about everything that uses electricity to impart motive force.

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