Chinese Internet giant Baidu has announced it will share its software for autonomous vehicles in order to catch up with rivals. Qi Liu, the company’s president, believes sharing Baidu’s advances in route planning, vehicle control, and operating systems well help increase the development of both Baidu and the autonomous vehicle industry. The hope is that easier access to technology will enable autonomous vehicles to reach the market quicker than would otherwise be possible, similar to people completing a jigsaw puzzle together instead of alone. For Baidu and others, the tradeoff for this strategy is gaining a larger market to sell their software to but losing the potential to control it.
In giving up the potential for massive market share in software, Baidu is betting on another source of revenue: data. Specifically, analysts think Baidu is aiming to mine data regarding travel patterns and destination to learn more about consumer habits. The tech firm may also be looking to capitalize on its strength artificial intelligence (AI) and its Chinese origins. While Baidu has previously lagged in trying to capitalize on its AI tech, self-driving cars could benefit from features such as improved voice recognition. Additionally, Baidu offers high quality mapping of Chinese roads, which foreign companies have limited access to.
Despite its efforts to speed its entry into the self-driving vehicles market, Baidu as well as other late movers face steep competition from a myriad of tech and auto companies that are already heavily invested. Google, Apple, Uber, Ford, and General Motors are among the major players with billions already invested in research and development. Yet, Baidu states that it is on schedule to mass produce vehicles by 2020. Even if it fails to deliver, accelerating the pace at which self-driving cars arrive en mass hast the potential to greatly revolutionize travel.
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