China’s Baidu is the one to beat in the race to driverless cars

Come at me.
Come at me.
Image: Tyrone Siu/Reuters
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In the race to autonomous vehicles, no one is more aggressive than Chinese tech giant Baidu.

At The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ D.Live technology conference on Tuesday (Oct. 17), the company’s chairman and CEO Robin Li said Baidu plans to roll out fully driverless buses in China next year, mass produce semi-autonomous cars by 2019, and produce fully autonomous ones by 2021.

It also envisions equipping its vehicles with interactive screens and entertainment. The company has partnered with an unnamed Chinese bus maker and Chinese car maker BAIC Motor for the fleets’ design and manufacturing.

Baidu is competing with Alphabet’s Waymo, which began developing self-driving technology in 2009, several years earlier than the Chinese company. Baidu uses self-driving open-source software Apollo, developed with over 50 partners including Ford, Nvidia, and Intel.

Most industry experts agree that Waymo’s technology is more advanced, the Journal reports. Baidu spends roughly 15% of its revenue, or about $1.5 billion, each year on self-driving R&D, Li said, with almost all of it spent on applying artificial intelligence to self-driving problems. Waymo reportedly spent a total of $1.1 billion in its first six years while still a project within Google.