Baidu unveils China’s first fully autonomous bus

Baidu has announced that it has begun volume production of Apolong, China’s first L4 fully autonomous bus at the firm’s annual AI conference, Baidu Create 2018.

Apolong, developed in partnership with Chinese bus manufacturer King Long and powered by Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving open platform, will be put into commercial operation in several Chinese cities including Beijing, Shenzhen, Xiongan, Wuhan and Pingtan of Fujian province, and has set its sights on overseas markets.

At the conference, Baidu also announced the latest upgrade to Apollo – Apollo 3.0 – to better support autonomous driving in geo-fenced areas.

The production volume of Apolong has reached 100 units at its manufacturing facility in Xiamen, in southeastern China’s Fujian province.

Baidu’s Chairman and CEO Robin Li introduced the milestone as he live-streamed an inside look at the autonomous minibus production line to more than 6,000 attendees at Baidu Create 2018 in Beijing.

Commercialisation for autonomous driving

“2018 marks the first year of commercialisation for autonomous driving. From the volume production of Apolong, we can truly see that autonomous driving is making great strides – taking the industry from zero to one,” Li said during his keynote address

Making its debut at the Baidu World conference in Beijing in November, Apolong, which holds 14 people, is also ready to take to the roads in overseas markets, targeting Japan as its first destination.

Baidu announced that it has teamed up with King Long and SB Drive, the autonomous driving subsidiary of Japan’s SoftBank Group, to bring Apolong autonomous minibuses to Japan for operation in cities such as Tokyo in early 2019.

Apolong, carrying Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving system, can complete self-driving operations such as obstacle avoidance, swerve and automatic transhipment.

It will also initially be put to use in last-mile travel scenarios in tourist spots, airports and other enclosed areas.

Logistics for transport

Continuing its rapid pace of development, Baidu introduced Apollo 3.0, the newest upgrade to the platform, just one year after its debut at the inaugural Baidu Create 2017.

Apollo 3.0 includes new solutions supporting valet parking, autonomous minibuses and autonomous microcars.

These new solutions aim to help prepare partners for volume production, evidence of which can already be seen in the volume production of NEOLIX AX1 L4 autonomous microcars for logistics and transport that are already operational in the Chinese cities of Xiongan and Changzhou.

“Apollo 3.0 marks a new era for the volume production of autonomous vehicles. We believe that safety is the foundation of volume production. Apollo will continue to work with our partners to push forward the transition to intelligent vehicles from traditional vehicles,” said Zhenyu Li, Vice President and General Manager of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group.

Human-vehicle interaction

At the event, Baidu also showcased a voice-activated AI telematics OS, a solution to enhance the in-car experience by enabling human-vehicle interaction.

Leveraging DuerOS, Baidu’s conversational AI system, the system’s capabilities include human-vehicle conversation, facial recognition entry, driver fatigue monitoring, AR navigation, intelligent security, vehicle-to-home (V2H) connection and personalised services and content such as providing recommendations and ordering food by voice command.

Apollo has now brought together 116 partners on the open platform. It laid out plans to achieve volume production of L3 autonomous vehicles by 2020 with BYD, China’s leading electric car manufacturer and has formed new strategic cooperation with Jaguar Land Rover, Valeo, Byton, Leopard Imaging and Suning Logistics.

The platform has also amassed more than 220,000 lines of code with over 10,000 developers recommending Apollo open source software.

Written from press release by Leah Alger