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China to step up autonomous driving efforts

Chinese internet search and tech giant Baidu detailed its Project Apollo at the Baidu Create 2017, or its first artificial intelligence (AI) developer conference held in Beijing on July 5 (see FEATURE on p. 1).

Video clips displayed at the event showed its CEO Robin Li riding in an autonomous driving car based on a Jeep Cherokee retrofitted by Baidu in cooperation with Bosch on Beijing’s fifth ring road heading to the event venue.

First announced on April 19 at the Shanghai Auto Show as an open autonomous driving platform to developers and partners, Apollo now counts over 50 partners involving OEMs, suppliers, cities, tech companies and mobility service providers. Baidu COO Lu Qi called the platform “Android of the autonomous driving industry, but more open and powerful.”

This may bring Chinese companies a step further on commercializing the autonomous driving technology.

Boston Consulting Group estimated that by 2035, 12 million fully autonomous vehicles could be sold a year globally, and the market for partially and fully autonomous vehicles is expected to reach nearly $77 billion in 2035 and vehicles with autonomous features are expected to capture a quarter of the new car market.

Being the largest autonomous driving market, China has made steady progress in the field. According to a Reuters report, more than 30 Chinese firms such as JD.com, Tencent, Geely, Alibaba, Didi Chuxing and BAIC have established beachheads in Silicon Valley, aiming to acquire the talent and technologies to develop self-driving cars.

Aiming to introduce fully autonomous driving capacities on highways and urban roads by 2020, Baidu has conducted successfully several road tests nationwide with OEM partners such as Chery, BMW, Great Wall and Bosch. Chang’an also completed its controversial 1,200-km autonomous driving road test across China in April 2016. Other companies are also taking similar road tests in enclosed testing zones or on open roads.

The commercialization on autonomous driving is never confined to passenger vehicles. Indeed, trucks may take the lead on the technology innovation.

Truck giants like Daimler, Volvo, IVECO and Scania have launched autonomous driving trucks and tech companies like Google and Uber are seeking footholds in the area. Even major Chinese truck makers are into the game.

Targeting to realize autonomous driving, Foton unveiled its Intelligent Connected Super Truck last July. FAW Jiefang, Dongfeng and others are also laying out plans.

This could bring blessings to truck drivers. Common in long distance transport, fatigue driving often leads to fatal accidents. If autonomous driving can be massively applied on logistics, it can save costs and lives. Currently, no regulation on autonomous driving has been released and legalized road testing is still a problem in China. To push for the commercialization of the technology, the country must speed up efforts to come up with relevant laws and guiding regulations.

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