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Hackers Try to Steal Self-Driving Tech From China's Baidu

Robocar IP gets the most sincere complement of all: People are stealing it

2 min read
baidu's selfdriving car
Photo: Baidu

Robocar technology has received perhaps the most honest compliment mankind can bestow: Hackers tried to steal it. Even more extraordinary was the willingness of the targeted company, China’s Baidu, to acknowledge the attempted heist.

"It's very difficult to know who employs them to do that, but we know someone tried to hire someone in the underground market to steal from us," said Ma Jie, the cybersecurity chief of the Beijing-based company, in an interview with Bloomberg.

He wouldn’t or couldn’t give further details. But there are plenty of suspects with the money needed for black-hat operations, including world-bestriding companies flush with cash. Not one has been found guilty in a court of law, but accusations have begun flying: Last month, Waymo, the spinoff of Google’s robocar project, accused a former employee of stealing megabytes’ worth of its data and for a rival operation at Uber. Uber denies any wrongdoing.

Baidu followed in the footsteps of Google by turning a specialty in search into a subspecialty in autonomous cars. Like most robocar outfits, it is testing the technology in California and forming partnerships with auto makers and tech firms. Among Baidu’s recent deals are its investment seven months ago in Velodyne, the lidar company; its collaboration with BMW; and its partnership with Nvidia, developer of a system-on-a-chip for robocars.

Baidu has demonstrated partially robotic cars, and it’s talking up a ride-hailing robotaxi service as early as next year and a rollout of truly self-driving cars in 2021. In this, too, it is very much in line with the industry, which is offering an ambitious, although increasingly divergent, timeline for the new technology. 

Earlier this month, at a conference in Germany, Volvo, Audi, Ford and BMW estimated they’d have cars that could drive themselves with human supervision by 2021. Nvidia said that it would be able to do that this year, and be able to field a totally self-driving car by 2025. Bosch was more pessimistic, saying that full autonomy might take several years longer to achieve. 

With all these companies competing for skills that take years to develop, the price of engineering talent has soared. And it’s no wonder that the temptation to steal those engineers’ work has also increased.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images
Green

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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