Baidu President Reveals the Next Phase of Apollo Autonomous Driving Platform at its New Silicon Valley Headquarters

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【Summary】Baidu Inc. announced updates to its open Apollo autonomous driving platform yesterday during a special event held at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. The event was Baidu’s first ever Apollo meetup held outside of China.

Original Eric Walz    Dec 02, 2017 4:51 PM PT
Baidu President Reveals the Next Phase of Apollo Autonomous Driving Platform at its New Silicon Valley Headquarters

SUNNYVALE, Calif., — Baidu announced updates to its open Apollo Autonomous Driving Platform yesterday during a special event held at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters. The event was Baidu's first ever Apollo meetup held outside of China.

"Today, the autonomous driving community has come together to celebrate Apollo's tremendous success at our first ever Apollo meetup outside of China." said Ya-Qin Zhang, President of Baidu, to an audience of developers and other industry insiders. "The advancements made with this collaborative platform will more quickly realize a future where self-driving vehicles are an integral and beneficial part of our daily lives."

Baidu's Apollo open autonomous driving platform is widely regarded as the ‘Android of the Automotive Industry'. First announced in April, Apollo is a comprehensive, secure, all-in-one, complete autonomous driving ecosystem which supports all major functions of a self-driving car.

Some of the major updates include cloud-based access to high-definition maps, improved perception and path planning, and Baudi's driver simulation engine, which allows testing of autonomous driving behaviors without danger to the public. The simulation engine, which has embedded HD maps with centimeter level accuracy, is backed by vast amounts of actual driving data, such as traffic lights, road signs, speed limits, and lane markers to allow developers to verify their algorithms.

Using the open platform and the necessary hardware to run it, a developer has all of the code to build and test a fully functional autonomous car. This collaborative effort is designed to speed up and improve self-driving technology globally for the entire industry. "We share our algorithms and valuable data." Zhang said.

According to Zhang, Baidu chose the name Apollo as the work towards self-driving cars faces similar challenges to that of the historic lunar landing in 1969.

Apollo is the First of its Kind in the Automotive Industry

Baudi's decision to make the Apollo platform open is the first its kind in the automotive industry. Zhang said, "We've seen two different approaches (to autonomous driving), one that is closed where you build everything yourself, the software, hardware, the services, the cars, and one that is open, making sure it's available for everybody. We chose to take the open approach. We believe that an open approach is the best path in creating the highest quality autonomous driving system."

Zhang emphasized that autonomous cars are the made up of many individual technologies, including radar, LiDAR, machine learning, AI, robotics, and high-definition mapping. It takes the expertise and collaboration of many individuals to develop a self-driving car, and the Apollo platform intends to bring all of that knowledge together in one place.

apollo car.jpg

A Baidu Self-Driving Car on Display at the Company's Silicon Valley Headquarters

Since debuting in April, Baidu has attracted 70 major partners to Apollo, including BIAC MOTOR, Intel, NVIDIA, Ford Motor Co., and LiDAR leader Velodyne. Baidu has also signed over 50 cooperation agreements with Apollo partners for mass production or joint product development plans.

Apollo's Code Quickly Became the Most Popular Repository on GitHub

As result of the overwhelming interest from developers, immediately after its debut the Apollo source code became the most popular C++ repository on GitHub for the month of July. Over the next two months, Apollo received dozens of code updates each week, the addition of more than 65,000 lines of new code and an overall positive response from global developers.

To date, more than 1,300 companies have downloaded the Apollo source code and nearly 100 companies have applied for open data via the Apollo website. Zhang said that the Apollo platform is modular, meaning that a partner can use as much or little of the Apollo resources and data they need. Additionally, the new version of Apollo allows developers access to high-definition maps and a driving simulation engine to test out autonomous driving scenarios on a computer, instead of on public roads.

Baidu is currently testing a fleet of 100 cars using the Apollo platform using the world's only computer driving simulation to virtually drive millions of additional miles to improve the software.

Zhang emphasized that Baidu's own contributions to Apollo are just a part of the collaborative efforts of many leading companies, researchers and developers. Zhang said, "Apollo is by Baidu, but not of Baidu, and definitely not for Baidu only. The auto industry is so large, that we believe there is room for everyone to innovate and succeed. Our mission is to democratize driving, not to monopolize it."

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