China web giant Baidu launching driverless car in 2015

10 Jun 2015

As a direct challenge to Google and Apple, Chinese web giant Baidu has plans to bring out a driverless car by the end of this year.

It hasn’t named the car company it is partnering up with, however, the BBC has suggested BMW, given its previous partnerships with the German automobile manufacturer.

Baidu has previously announced plans for a semi-automated car, marking a clear shift away from Google, which is already some way down the line with its entirely autonomous vehicle.

Google’s plans are such that steering wheels are not thought to be included in the design, with Apple itself planning its own introduction into the truly ‘smart’ car sphere in a few years’ time.

Baidu’s plans, though, stand out most because the release is so imminent. Last month, for example, Bloomberg reported that Uber was “teaming up with Baidu” to buy up Nokia’s Oyj’s maps business.

Baidu is the leading website in China, and subsequently one of the biggest in the world, so the power of this company is such that even Google will be taking note.

Google said that vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94pc of accidents caused by human error, reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations and new opportunities within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car.

It has been given permission for its prototype to leave the test track after six long years and drive freely around Mountain View in California this summer.

Baidu, though, appears further along the driverless car line.

What will be interesting, long term, will be communications congestion, with some fearing that a future of interconnected cars talking with one another will lead to critical stress on mobile phone networks during peak times, with a 97pc increase in data traffic over the next 10 years expected.

Beijing traffic image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic