Baidu, the Chinese search giant, is working on a self-driving car and may roll it out as early as this year, says chief executive Robin Li.
He spoke before attending a government conference in Beijing, according to Bloomberg. Just last week, the minister of technology had publicly encouraged Chinese companies outside the auto industry to work with it to spur innovation.
Another huge tech company thus joins the robocar bandwagon, the one Google started in 2010. Auto companies jumped on soon afterwards; just last year Mercedes fielded the first production car that could take over most highway driving. Now it’s the tech companies’s turn to climb aboard.
The past month saw a spate of rumors that Apple was developing an autonomous electric car, or at least working on the finely detailed mapping services such a car would need. In any case, the company has been on a hiring binge, snapping up engineers with experience in automotive batteries and guidance systems.
Baidu is no stranger to mapping, having already offered it as part of its suite of search services. Back in September it said it was collaborating with BMW on maps suitable for self-driving cars.
How much of this is real and how much is for show? Who knows. Robotic cars are the newest big thing, and governments and companies alike are rushing to get in front of the convoy and thus appear to be leading it.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.