Ride-Hailing Service with Self-Driving Cars on the Way in China

Autonomous car partnerships aren't unique to the United States. Baidu and Shouqi are pairing up in China.

Chinese tech giant Baidu has a new ally in its quest to develop self-driving cars. The company is teaming with Shouqi, a Chinese state-backed ride-hailing service. The two companies will share their technology.

Baidu will provide Shouqi with its Apollo autonomous-driving software platform, and its DuerOS voice-recognition system, according to Engadget. Shouqi will provide Baidu with digital maps, which are vital to making self-driving cars work. Autonomous vehicles need precise maps to orient themselves, and consequently, those maps are becoming a hot commodity.

While Baidu is eager to develop self-driving cars, it plans to act primarily as a software provider, letting other companies actually build the cars and related hardware, as well as develop related businesses. Baidu intended its Apollo platform to be open source, and therefore able to adapt to different companies’ needs. In July, the Chinese firm said more than 50 companies were working with it on the Apollo platform.

The Shouqi partnership could be particularly important for Baidu, and not just because of the state-backed firm’s digital maps. A ride-hailing service will give Baidu a commercial outlet for its technology. It’s widely believed that self-driving cars will be used in ride hailing before anything else, and that autonomy will dramatically increase the moneymaking potential of ride hailing.

In the United States, partnerships between automakers, tech companies, and ride-hailing services are becoming too numerous to count. Companies like Uber, Lyft, Waymo, Intel, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are part of a network of relationships that has reached soap-opera levels of complexity. Who’s to say that approach won’t work in China as well?