Baidu Inks Deals With BMW & Suning for AV Development

In a move to further its ambitions in China, BMW is planning to join the board of Apollo, the open source autonomous driving platform being developed by Chinese web services giant Baidu.

The deal was inked as part of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Germany today to meet with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Apollo is designed to be an open, self-driving ecosystem that can help members of the autonomous driving industry build their own complete self-driving vehicle systems. It has also enlisted 116 global partners, including tech heavyweights such as Microsoft, Intel and Nvidia since its launch a year ago.

By opening the autonomous driving source code, capabilities and data, Apollo forms a “vehicle and cloud” open ecosystem, offering developers and partners lacking data and computing power an array of flexible services, including a map engine, reference hardware and security components.

“Our aim is to accelerate the development of autonomous driving technologies that align with the Chinese market,” Ya-Qin Zhang, president of Baidu, noted in a statement.

The BMW Group is also working on developing an autonomous driving platform with technology solutions for Level 3 to Level 4/5 (highly to fully automated driving), as well as for advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), which have more limited capabilities.

The Memorandum of Understanding between Baidu and BMW follows an agreement Baidu has with BMW China to develop Internet of Vehicles (IoV) platforms connecting vehicles with smart home devices.

The technology lets consumers control their vehicles remotely from their homes by sending voice instructions, such as turning on the ventilation, checking fuel level, locking car doors and more.

Mercedes vehicles have also been equipped with technical applications from Baidu’s Apollo platform as part of an agreement between the Chinese government and the German auto giant to test Level 4 autonomous vehicles on city streets in Beijing.

In addition to BMW, Baidu announced a partnership with Chinese retail logistics giant Suning to accelerate commercial application of self-driving technology.

As part of the announcement the two companies unveiled an unmanned delivery vehicle dubbed the “MicroCar,” which is equipped with Baidu’s Level 4-class autonomous driving system.

The company also introduced its smart logistics system, which includes “last-mile” delivery scenarios where the Apollo platform could be put into commercial use.

Suning has developed a set of delivery service possibilities that employ self-driving vehicle technology, such as an instant local delivery service, which would consist of an unmanned delivery car and a convenience store.

In another potential market scenario, an autonomous car could provide distribution of various items on a fixed delivery route.

In May, Suning successfully completing a road test of its heavy-duty self-driving truck called “Strolling Dragon,” and in April the company officially launched its Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) warehouse in the Chinese city of Jinan.

Earlier this month Baidu and Intel announced plans to work with Mobileye to integrate and commercially deploy the Responsibility Sensitive Safety (RSS) model in both the open source Project Apollo and commercial Apollo Pilot programs.

Baidu also announced plans to adopt Mobileye’s Surround Computer Vision Kit as the visual perception solution, which will be integrated as part of Baidu’s proposition to the Chinese OEM market.

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209.

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