Baidu, a Chinese tech firm best known for its search engine, hopes that its open-source Apollo platform will help advance self-driving cars. But Baidu isn't going it alone -- not by a long shot.
Baidu announced Wednesday that it has forged partnerships with approximately 50 different companies in order to promote its Apollo self-driving platform. The group includes Nvidia, TomTom, Bosch, Daimler and Ford, as well as Chinese auto manufacturers like Chery and BAIC Motor.
Much like, its chief competitor, Baidu doesn't want to build its own self-driving car. Rather, it wants to build a package of hardware and software that will underpin self-driving cars from other manufacturers. Building a car from the ground up is a billion-dollar endeavor, and it's never guaranteed to bear fruit, making the supplier route a much more prudent decision.
That's where Apollo comes in. The program, which is named after the US space program, wants to bring an open-source attitude to self-driving car development. Apollo wants to give developers the tools it needs to help bring autonomous cars to market, including data, APIs and high-resolution maps. Baidu's COO referred to Apollo as the "Android of the autonomous driving industry."
Companies making use of Apollo won't be able to get vehicles on public roads just yet, though. Starting later this month, Baidu hopes to open up technology that will allow developers to test their cars in very specific, restricted areas. According to the timeline on its website, these restricted tests will expand to "simple urban road conditions" in December, with proper public-road use .
This runs counter to Waymo's strategy. While both tech firms have open partnerships with a number of suppliers and automakers, Waymo's development takes place behind closed doors. With both companies hoping to get their systems on the road within the next 5 to 10 years, it won't be too long before we can start figuring out which approach is the better one.