Chinese search giant Baidu today announced that more than 50 companies, including big names in the auto and tech industries, have joined its Apollo self-driving car platform. Those companies include Ford, Daimler, Nvidia, Intel, Microsoft, and popular LIDAR-supplier Velodyne. The partnerships alone aren’t a huge milestone. Rather, it’s how Baidu plans to work with these companies to turn Apollo into a global initiative that can compete with the biggest names in Silicon Valley.
Apollo, which Baidu first announced back in April, arrived with an ambitious goal of putting fully autonomous vehicles on roads and highways by 2020. Baidu, which operates the largest search engine in China, is moving quickly to compete with self-driving car efforts from Western tech companies and automakers, including Alphabet’s Waymo, Uber, and traditional car makers like Ford, BMW, and GM. It’s doing so by positioning Apollo as as an open source software platform that will allow any hardware maker to quickly deploy and customize an autonomous driving system.
“Apollo is an important milestone for the automotive industry,” Qi Lu, Baidu’s chief operating officer, said yesterday at Baidu Create, the company’s inaugural artificial intelligence conference. “It is in essence the ‘Android’ of the autonomous driving industry, but more open and more powerful. Apollo is not solely Baidu’s. It belongs to everyone in the ecosystem. And 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.”