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Baidu challenges Google with driverless car test

Baidu's self-driving car during a test in December 2015.
Baidu
Baidu's self-driving car during a test in December 2015.

Baidu, China's largest search engine, has joined the driverless car race, announcing on Thursday that its vehicle had completed a fully autonomous test on a route with mixed roads and different weather types.

Often referred to as the Google of China, Baidu said the self-driving car, which is a modified BMW 3 series, completed a 30-kilometer test drive route by "executing a comprehensive set of driving actions and accurately responding to the driving environment".

With the test, Baidu is joining a host of technology companies looking to establish themselves at the forefront of developments in automotive technology. Google has been testing a driverless car on the road while Samsung on Wednesday announced that it was establishing a new business group to research driverless technologies.

Baidu said its car had "successfully executed driving actions" including turning right and left, U-turns, decelerating while detecting vehicles ahead, changing lanes, passing other cars and merging into traffic from ramps. The autonomous vehicle peaked at a 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour).

The Chinese search giant has made a big push into in artificial intelligence (AI), mapping and cars in recent years. Last year Baidu hired Google's former AI chief Andrew Ng to head its AI center in Silicon Valley.

Baidu AutoBrain is the software behind its driverless cars and includes mapping, positioning, detection and decision making features.

The company did not give a timeline of when its autonomous cars would be on the road but said its approach is to start deploying this on set routes first before making it commercially available.

"For example, a bus that runs the same fixed route will be able to fit a very reliable model for that route, training computer vision and other deep learnings systems through repetition," Baidu said.

Google's fleet of self-driving cars has completed more than 2 million miles of autonomous and manual driving combined in six years of the project and is currently being tested on public roads in some areas of California and in Austin, Texas. Unlike Baidu's vehicle which is being tested on motorways, Google's car is being trialed on mainly residential and urban areas.