The State of Driverless Cars: Baidu Brings Testing to Google Territory

Baidu, the "Google of China," joins the internet giant to test driverless cars in California
Baidu, the “Google of China”

Getting driverless cars ready for the road is happening so fast that tech companies are projecting more aggressive dates for production and implementation. On September 1, 2016, Baidu, considered the Google of China, became the newest pioneering voice to join the fray. The internet giant announced its plan to put an autonomous fleet of public shuttle vehicles on the roads by 2018. Driverless cars for personal use follow soon after. In preparation for these upcoming events, California DMV issued Baidu a license that allows them to test their automobiles on West Coast roads in the coming months.

Serious competitor in the driverless cars race

This comes on the heels of Baidu’s setting up a research and development facility in Sunnyvale, California in March, putting itself in direct competition with Google. Road tests around the Golden State facility are already in the works. These are a follow-up to the company’s highly successful trials across different terrains and environments throughout China with an autonomously-outfitted BMW in December 2015.

Establishing a mutually-beneficial partnership

Baidu is partnering with Santa Clara, California-based visual computing company NVIDIA to create the optimal driverless car. NVIDIA, a leader in virtual reality, computer graphics hardware and software, is primarily known for designing graphics processing units (GPU) for the gaming industry. GPUs are the brains behind what makes beautiful computer generated images come to life on a screen – in video games, feature films and more. This capability is also being tapped by the automotive industry to enhance the user experience and interface in connected and autonomous/self-driving vehicles.

Baidu is the creator of a state-of-the-art mapping program and cloud capability that is also integral to advancing the development and manufacturing of driverless cars. It has joined forces with NVIDIA to build a cloud-based autonomous vehicle platform that combines both of their strengths. The capability incorporates artificial intelligence into an automobile’s engine. This enables the vehicle to drive on a range of road types and handle unique scenarios, such as automated parking, that will define and test safety and efficiency.

Welcome bonus to local economy

This ramping up of autonomous vehicle research and development in California has resulted in increased need for local engineers, project managers and other positions to advance innovation. This is opening up new West Coast employment opportunities as Google and Baidu work fast and furiously toward getting their driverless cars on the road.

Apple is also working on automotive innovation that is bringing more jobs to the area. Whether it’s building the next electric vehicle or one that is self-driving is still just a rumor, but its efforts are bringing opportunities to the Golden State as well.

Could driverless cars be the next Silicon Valley?

Baidu is just one of the newest players in this mass exodus away from human to digital control behind the steering wheel. As California gains more traction as a strong testing and development arena for pioneering automotive technology, is it possible more companies will be attracted to the area to set up self-driving research and manufacturing facilities?

The Golden State is already established as a technology center and consistently leads the pack when it comes to vehicle innovations (setting emissions standards for the rest of the country, for example). Baidu’s expansion into California goes that much further towards validating its already solid position as a tech-savvy enclave. What that means for the future of the area as well as that of autonomous vehicles deserves watching.