China's Baidu says to develop self-driving buses within 3 years

Baidu's headquarters in Beijing.
Baidu's headquarters in Beijing. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top online search firm Baidu Inc said it aims to put self-driving buses on the road in three years and mass produce them within five years, after it set up a business unit to oversee all its efforts related to automobiles.

The unit will also include its initiative in partnership with BMW AG to develop an autonomous passenger vehicle, which may also be put into mass production within five years, a spokesman told Reuters on Monday (Dec 14).

Self-driving cars have emerged as a new battlefront for tech majors globally. Alibaba Group Holding says it will launch its first car in a partnership with China's SAIC Motor Corp, while US tech heavyweights Google and Apple are also developing autonomous cars.

The Baidu spokesman declined to give details on potential auto manufacturer partners for the bus project or investment amounts for the unit.

Baidu Senior Vice President Wang Jing will lead the new unit as general manager.

So far, Google appears to be ahead in the race to develope self-driving cars.

In June this year, Google's self-driving prototype cars took to streets in the company's hometown, the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View.

Prototype cars built from the ground up to get around safely without human drivers joined Google's fleet of Lexus vehicles augmented with sensors and other computing gadgetry to manage autonomously on roads.

The prototypes were limited to 40kmh in Google's hometown and have "safety drivers" who can take over using manual controls if needed.

"We've had 20-plus Lexus vehicles driving on Mountain View city streets for the last few years, but the arrival of our new self-driving vehicle prototypes marks the start of a new phase of our project," Google said then. The Google car uses the same technology as its fleet of Lexus SUVs, which have logged some 1.6 million km.