While rival Google built a self-driving car from the ground up, Baidu chose to buy a BMW 3 Series GT and fit it with all of the cameras, sensors, and lasers required for autonomous operation.
The system is capable of detecting other motorists, obstacles in the road, and pedestrians. During the initial 18-mile test, the GT reached a top speed of 62 mph, and it performed U-turns, left and right turns, lane changes, and merging maneuvers on public roads.
Baidu’s self-driving 3 Series GT relies on highly automated driving (HAD) maps that record accurate 3D road data in real time and are capable of detecting precisely where the vehicle is situated.
The technology is still in its infancy, but Baidu predicts a vast majority of China’s roads could be mapped with HAD mapping within five to 10 years, paving the way for the widespread adoption of autonomous passenger cars and city buses.
Baidu explains developing a self-driving car is more difficult in China than elsewhere in the world.
“Fully autonomous driving under mixed road conditions is universally challenging, with complexity further heightened by Beijing’s road conditions and unpredictable driver behavior,” said Wang Jing, the senior vice president of Baidu and the general manager of the firm’s newly-established Autonomous Driving Business Unit, in a statement.
The company hopes to bring a self-driving car to the market in the not-too-distant future, but a more specific time frame hasn’t been given yet.