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Baidu Crosses Major Milestone in Driverless Bus Production

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【Summary】The buses are electric, making the units ‘futureproof’ for cities interested in using the sustainable shuttles to meet their new energy goals.

Michael Cheng    Jul 12, 2018 11:00 AM PT
Baidu Crosses Major Milestone in Driverless Bus Production
author: Michael Cheng   

Baidu's plans to make transportation more efficient with self-driving buses just hit a major milestone. The China-based tech giant announced the production of its 100th autonomous shuttle. Manufactured under a partnership with King Long, the units will be deployed in China, Japan and other cities worldwide.

The fleet is referred to as Apolong, which was likely derived from King Long and Apollo – the name of the autonomous driving platform that underpins the buses. Capable of holding 14 passengers, the units were produced at a manufacturing plant in Xiamen (southeastern China's Fujian province).

Apolong Autonomous Bus

The Apolong driverless bus is equipped with L4 autonomous capabilities. This level of autonomy suggests the shuttles will be used to facilitate commutes along ‘last-mile' routes in cities. Without a steering wheel and driver's seat, the cabins are very spacious. Compared to conventional buses, Apolong is roughly 33 percent smaller. To clarify, Baidu doesn't seem to be interested in producing vehicles on its own at this time, which is likely why the business partnered with King Long.

The buses are electric, making them ‘futureproof' for cities interested in using the sustainable shuttles to meet their new energy goals. On the road, the fleet can reach a top speed of 44 miles per hour. At full charge, it is capable of traveling up to 62 miles. Charging time to full battery capacity takes two hours to complete.

Hints of Baidu's quest to commercialize autonomous buses can be seen in Apollo 3.0, which offers features for autonomous micro vehicles, shuttles and valet parking. The open platform has attracted numerous collaborations with car manufacturers, startups and auto suppliers, including Jaguar Land Rover, Leopard Imaging, Suning Logistics, Valeo and Byton.

"Apollo 3.0 marks a new era for the volume production of autonomous vehicles. We believe that safety is the foundation of volume production. Apollo will continue to work with our partners to push forward the transition to intelligent vehicles from traditional vehicles," said Zhenyu Li, Vice President and General Manager of Baidu's Intelligent Driving Group.

Deployment in Cities

Baidu's main goal is to start autonomous shuttle services in China and other parts of the world. In China, the units will be deployed in Beijing, Shenzhen, Pingtan and Wutan. The tech company also plans to leverage its partnership with Japan's Softbank (SB Drive – Softbank's autonomous driving subsidiary, which is backed by Yahoo! Japan) to release the units in the country. According a press release, the business will utilize 10 Apolongs for public trials and demonstrations by 2019.

Interestingly, this isn't the first time for Softbank to get its hands on a fleet of driverless buses. Earlier this year, the group purchased L3 autonomous shuttles from Navya, a French self-driving startup. The buses were tested in Tokyo's Haneda Airport.

"2018 marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving. From the volume production of Apolong, we can truly see that autonomous driving is making great strides - taking the industry from zero to one," said Robin Li, Chairman and CEO of Baidu.

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