Manufacturing News

Baidu taps Microsoft to design self-driving cars

Chinese tech giant Baidu Inc. is relying on Microsoft to extend its self-driving car ambitions outside of China.

The two companies first said they would work together to develop Apollo, Baidu's open-source autonomous vehicle platform developed in collaboration with 50 automakers, suppliers and tech companies.

Baidu, a Google-style search-engine provider that has become one of China's largest tech companies, released further details of its partnership with Microsoft on Tuesday. Microsoft will provide data storage, security and artificial intelligence services to the project.

"We are in the process of spreading this globally," said Ya-Qin Zhang, president of Baidu, in an interview with Automotive News. "By partnering with Microsoft, we can expand the capabilities of Apollo to global partners."

Microsoft's Azure cloud storage service manages data in 40 regions worldwide, including the United States. Access to this network would allow self-driving cars using the Apollo platform to process and store information – such as map and roadway updates – in those areas.

Apollo, which is working with Robert Bosch GmbH, Continental AG, Nvidia Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Daimler AG, among others, is a software package that allows autonomous vehicles to locate themselves within their surroundings, plan routes and control mechanical functions.

The platform is open, which means manufacturers can use the entire suite or just use specific features. They also can integrate their own technology with it.

Baidu first announced the Apollo initiative in April. Within the next two or three years, Zhang said the platform likely will help guide small numbers of Level 4 self-driving vehicles, which require no human interaction in some types of traffic.

The venture marks Baidu's intention to become a major player in the development of autonomous vehicles. The Chinese tech giant has opened a 200-employee artificial intelligence research facility in Silicon Valley, staffed with former Google, Facebook and other tech veterans.

With its ability to be used in the United States with Microsoft's cloud platform, Baidu can bring Apollo to the home turf of rivals Waymo and Apple.

"Our purpose is clear," Zhang said. "We want to create a vibrant autonomous driving ecosystem worldwide."

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