Baidu launches $2b fund for self-driving cars

BEIJING • Chinese search engine Baidu announced a 10 billion yuan (S$2.04 billion) autonomous driving fund yesterday as part of a wider plan to speed up its technical development and compete with rivals in the United States.

The "Apollo Fund" will invest in 100 autonomous driving projects over the next three years, Baidu said in a statement. The fund's launch coincides with the release of Apollo 1.5, the second generation of the company's open-source autonomous vehicle software.

After years of internal development, Baidu in April opened its autonomous driving tech to third parties, in efforts to speed up progress and help it compete with US firms Tesla and Google. In the latest platform update, it says partners can access new obstacle perception technology and high-definition maps, among other features.

The fund comes amid a wider reshuffle of Baidu's corporate strategy as it looks for new profit streams outside its core search business, which lost a large chunk of ad revenue last year following strict new government regulations on medical advertising.

Baidu's Apollo project aims to create technology for completely autonomous cars, which it says will be ready for city roads in China by 2020.

It now has 70 partners across several fields in the auto industry, up from 50 in July, it says. Existing partners include microprocessors firm Nvidia Corp and mapping service TomTom.

Despite the rapid growth of its partner ecosystem, Baidu has faced challenges negotiating local Chinese regulations, which have previously stopped the company from testing on highways.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline 'Baidu launches $2b fund for self-driving cars'. Print Edition | Subscribe