China's Baidu Has Assembled a Super-Group of Partners for Its Self-Driving Car Project
Baidu says more than 50 companies, including Microsoft, Daimler, and Ford, have signed on to work on its open-source autonomous car platform.
The self-driving car landscape is becoming dominated by partnerships. Waymo is working with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Lyft, and BMW, Intel, Mobileye, and Delphi have formed a self-driving car supergroup, for example.
If teamwork is the key to self-driving cars, then Baidu may have the advantage. The Chinese tech company just announced that more than 50 companies have signed onto its Apollo self-driving car platform. The list includes Ford and Daimler, as well as tech companies like Nvidia, Intel, and Microsoft, plus lidar supplier Velodyne.
Baidu announced plans for the Apollo platform in April. It wants Apollo to be an open-source foundation that other companies can adapt for their own needs. If Baidu's dozens of partners really do develop autonomous driving systems based on Apollo, it could create a whole ecosystem of compatible hardware and software, similar to Google's Android operating system.
Being the software provider also means Baidu doesn't have to do as much of the heavy lifting of developing self-driving cars and related services. Baidu has tested a prototype autonomous car, and was granted a license by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test self-driving cars on the state's roads. But letting other people develop and produce cars will probably be an easier route for the company.
Tech companies have been quick to develop autonomous driving systems, but their lack of experience manufacturing cars makes commercializing those systems difficult. By positioning Apollo as the Android of the self-driving car world, Baidu stands to profit from any future developments without involving itself in the capital-intense process of making cars—as well as avoiding many of the legal questions that surround ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which are expected to be bigger users of self-driving cars than individual consumers.