MIT Technology Review – It’s a damp evening in early January, and I’m riding shotgun in a Lincoln MKZ hybrid as it traverses the dark streets of Sunnyvale, California. Traffic is light, even though it’s rush hour on a Thursday, so we take twists and turns at a good clip. It would be a largely unremarkable ride, if not for the fact that the guy in the driver’s seat doesn’t have his hands on the wheel.
Traveling in Baidu’s self-driving car is comfortingly boring. The car, which ran the newest version of Baidu’s Apollo self-driving software, zipped along as the speed limit rose from 25 to 35 miles per hour, slowed down with balletic grace as we approached stop lights, and always—always—used its blinkers to signal turns.
Baidu, China’s giant search company, is a relative newcomer to the fast-growing autonomous-vehicle market, having begun work on its self-driving cars only about five years ago. Google started working on its self-driving-car project (now known as its Waymo business) back in 2009, and since then a number of tech companies and car makers have also invested heavily in the technology.
In an effort to catch up quickly, and raise China’s profile as an AI innovation center, Baidu is eschewing the secrecy that normally surrounds self-driving cars: as Google did with its Android smartphone operating system, it’s offering Apollo free to anyone who wants to use it.
Read more at MIT Technology Review.