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”Robot Cars Drive Themselves!” Pretty grabby headline, right? Throw in a few million dollars, a lot of publicity, and you've got a great story. The TV footage is compelling: brightly colored vehicles without drivers, bristling with cameras and sensors, driving themselves over dunes, down rutted trails--and, late this month, through simulated suburbs and city centers, in the US $2 million DARPA Urban Challenge.

There's just one problem with the imagery: the technologies likely to win the Challenge--those expensive cameras and sensors--probably won't be the ones that let future passenger vehicles ”drive themselves.” Instead, automakers expect that cars of the future will pay less attention to the lay of the land and more to each other, informing other vehicles about what they're doing several times each second by transmitting data that cars today already gather, via cheap wireless transponders roughly equivalent to your US $40 Wi-Fi router.

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Chinese Joint Venture Will Begin Mass-Producing an Autonomous Electric Car

With the Robo-01, Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely aim for a fully self-driving car

4 min read
A black car sits against a white backdrop decorated with Chinese writing. The car’s doors are open, like a butterfly’s wings. Two charging stations are on the car’s left; two men stand on the right.

The Robo-01 autonomous electric car shows off its butterfly doors at a reveal to the media in Beijing, in June 2022.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters/Alamy

In October, a startup called Jidu Automotive, backed by Chinese AI giant Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely, officially released an autonomous electric car, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition. In 2023, the car will go on sale.

At roughly US $55,000, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition is a limited edition, cobranded with China’s Lunar Exploration Project. It has two lidars, a 5-millimeter-wave radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and 12 high-definition cameras. It is the first vehicle to offer on-board, AI-assisted voice recognition, with voice response speeds within 700 milliseconds, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8295 chip.

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