Due to heavy state support, commercial partnerships and algorithms Chinese online search giant Baidu could end up being the dominant force in the autonomous car sector beating American firms such as Google, Tesla and Uber according to analysts. Following a scandal in its healthcare advertising business Baidu has been trying to monetize the research it has conducted in artificial intelligence and driverless car systems have proved to be the best avenue.
This is especially so since other initiatives based on artificial intelligence such as an automated news feed or DuerOS voice assistant have encountered stiff competition. Per research firm Canalys, iFlytek has emerged as the leader in the field of virtual assistants in China after beating Baidu as well as e-commerce giant Alibaba with regards to the number of devices on which it has been installed. In the case of automated news feeds, Jinri Toutiao (Today’s Headlines) is at present the market leader.
Commercialization of Baidu’s autonomous driving technology is currently in high gear. Though there are no laws regarding driverless cars in place, the Chinese online search giant is partnering with King Long Motor Group, a state-controlled company with a view to launching a semi-driverless bus in early 2018. At a recent technology conference Baidu announced that other motor vehicle manufacturers in China including Chery Automobile and FAW Group were using the tech firm’s self-driving features including autonomous parking and in-car driving assistance.
Though the chief executive officer of Baidu, Robin Li, was issued with a warning for riding in a driverless car earlier in the year without the necessary permission, there hasn’t been much intervention from the regulators. Part of the reason for this is the fact that the developments fit in with the Chinese government’s objective of becoming a global leader in frontier technologies. A policy initiative for instance aims to ensure that domestic firms become the market leaders in ten industries that are considered strategically important by 2025. These sectors include robotics and artificial intelligence.
In a survey conducted by research firm eMarketer three months ago, 82% of the Chinese expressed willingness to ride in a driverless car. In Japan the figure is 43% while in Singapore it is 59%. This means that the market potential in China for autonomous cars is one of the biggest on the planet.
“The Chinese government has stronger decision-making ability and execution powers. China also has good internet technologies. These are all favorable factors for autonomous cars,” said Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s professor, Yang Ming.