Baidu project Apollo: "China's Google" will open its self-driving car technology to anyone

 
Lynsey Barber
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Baidu's project Apollo will be open to anyone (Source: Getty)

The likes of Apple might be keeping its work on self-driving car technology seriously close to its chest, but one tech giant has decided to do pretty much the exact opposite.

Baidu, China's answer to Google, will open up its own driverless car technology to anyone who wants to use it in the name of creating a "collaborative ecosystem".

"AI has great potential to drive social development, and one of AI's biggest opportunities is intelligent vehicles," said Baidu group president and operating chief Qi Lu who joined the firm from Microsoft in January, speaking ahead of the Shanghai Auto Show.

Read more: Apple hints at future plans with shock drop of Imagination Technologies

The Apollo project (named after the moon landings) will make software, hardware and cloud data services open to developers, including open sourcing code for things like identifying obstacles and controlling vehicles.

The firm believes it will lower the barriers for entry into the nascent but hotly-tipped driverless car market and foster greater innovation.

It's a different course in the world of driverless car development. The rivalry between tech companies is heating up with Google's self-driving tech offshoot Waymo filing a lawsuit against Uber and Elon Musk's Tesla accusing Apple of poaching its engineers.

Apple last week gained approval from regulators in California to test its driverless cars on the roads. The green light puts to bed rumours that the iPhone maker is dialling back on its self-driving car efforts, nicknamed project Titan.

Traditional car companies and startups are also in the race for a slice of the multi-billion pound market.

Read more: Interest in driverless cars has cooled across Europe - except in Britain

Baidu said its technology will start to become available from July in restricted environments and then more widely in "simple urban road conditions" by the end of the year, with the goal of 2020 for fully autonomous cars on open roads.

"An open, innovative industry ecosystem initiated by Baidu will accelerate the development of autonomous driving in the US and other developed automotive markets," said Lu.

"In addition, through open technology our technological achievements can be quickly applied to a wide range of fields - and accelerate even more achievements. This is a great opportunity for those talent dedicated in autonomous driving."

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