In the seemingly endless race between the U.S. and China for world domination, the roadways have become a prime racing ground. And now, as China announces the completion of its first fully autonomous car’s driving test, it seems that things are really heating up. Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, informed the Wall Street Journal of a “new business unit that will work on developing autonomous vehicles for use as public shuttles.” Using a modified BMW 3 series, the Chinese Internet giant announced Wednesday “that its autonomous car has successfully completed rigorous, fully autonomous tests on one route with mixed roads under a variety of environmental conditions.”
Back in June, Baidu unveiled its ambitious plans to have a self-driving car on the pavement by year’s end, and now, it seems that they’ve made good on their promise. With Google inching ever closer to commercializing its own autonomous technology, the race is most certainly on to see who will be first to market.
Although Baidu has successfully completed a 30 kilometer road test, this impressive accomplishment still leaves the firm some distance from putting a real driverless car on the road. “Fully autonomous driving under mixed road conditions is universally challenging, with complexity further heightened by Beijing’s road conditions and unpredictable driver behavior,” Wang Jing, senior vice-president of Baidu and general manager of the company’s autonomous driving business unit, said in a press release.
Reaching top speeds of 100 kilometers per hour, the souped-up BMW made right, left, and U-turns; decelerated when it detected vehicles nearby, changed lanes, passed cars, and merged into traffic — all the things you’d expect from a human looking to pass a driving test.
Wang told the Wall Street Journal that his plans for self-driving cars far exceed personal use. Rather, he said, “We will cooperate with some governments to provide shared vehicles like a shuttle service; it could be a car or van, but for public use.” Because if you don’t want to drive, your taxi driver probably doesn’t want to, either.
So look alive, Google and company. China is hot on your trail, and just might beat you to the punch.
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