Baidu, a Chinese technology company specialized in Internet-related services and products, is set to launch a self-driving bus. The automated vehicle is expected to hit the streets of Japan by 2019, and several Chinese cities before that.
According to BBC, The tech company recently increased its production and will be debuting the buses in Japan with partner SB Drive, a self-driving public-transportation division of Softbank.
SB Drive bought several self-drive shuttle buses from the French start-up Navya, and tested their use in level-three mode, meaning a human is expected to take over if required, at Tokyo's Haneda Airport in February. Navya's self-driving buses are in use at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, and in Las Vegas. France's Easymile, Australia's Intellibus and South Korea's KT have also launched self-driving buses.
Professor Natasha Merat of the University of Leeds' Institute for Transport Studies believes these vehicles will be more readily accepted by the public in the short-term than self-driving cars.
"Any vehicle that can be deployed in a well-organised and controlled environment and that can be controlled and regulated by authorities... is more likely to be the starter for this sort of technology, than ones which will be provided to [a single] member of the general public, who would not necessarily be closely monitored," she said.
Baidu— China’s version of Google— has been collaborating with bus manufacturer King Long to build the Apolong buses, which seat 14, and has already finished 100. The buses have no driver’s seat or steering wheel, and include level four autonomous driving capabilities, meaning a driver will not be needed in specified geographical areas, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Baidu Chief Executive Robin Li detailed the plans at the company's annual artificial intelligence developer conference in Beijing. "2018 marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving. In the past, China exported cheap commodities to the world. In the future, China will export AI technology to the world," he said.
The company also updated its self-driving platform, Apollo. The improvements include facial recognition to detect exhausted drivers and valet parking capabilities. Baidu also plans to integrate a safety model, cameras, and computer vision software from Mobileye, a subsidiary of Intel.
“Apollo 3.0 marks a new era for the volume production of autonomous vehicles,” Zhenyu Li, Vice President and General Manager of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, said. “We believe that safety is the foundation of volume production. Apollo will continue to work with our partners to push forward the transition to intelligent vehicles from traditional vehicles.”