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[BEIJING] Baidu Inc has enlisted more than 50 partners for its Apollo driverless project, signing up major players in areas from mapping and ride-sharing to automaking to aid the Chinese search giant's foray into AI-powered vehicles.
The program aims to open up part of Baidu's autonomous car software in the same way that Google released its Android operating system for smartphones. By encouraging more companies to build products using them, Baidu hopes to fine-tune its nascent systems and overtake rival research efforts by the likes of Google parent Alphabet Inc's Waymo.
Baidu listed four Chinese carmakers, suppliers Robert Bosch GmbH and Continental AG and technology companies including Microsoft Corp as part of the Apollo alliance. Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant Grab and mapping systems company TomTom NV are also joining the program, which aims to get fully autonomous vehicles on city streets as early as in 2018.
Widely considered the Google of China, Baidu is hoping research into artificial intelligence will create a new generation of products to help revive revenue growth. It has a stated goal of releasing a driverless car by 2018 with mass production to begin by 2021, but some analysts believe its technology still lags that of competitors like Waymo. At a Baidu conference Wednesday, developers showed off the Chinese search provider's personal assistant, DuerOS.
The raft of Apollo agreements unveiled Wednesday at Baidu Create cover virtually every automotive field. Dutch company TomTom said in a statement it will help Baidu with high-definition mapping in the US and Western Europe. Several of Apollo's members already have separate cooperation agreements in place with Waymo and other driverless car providers.
"As we and our partners contribute to the platform in our areas of specialty, we all gain more, with the results far greater than just our own," Baidu group president Qi Lu said in a statement.