At Baidu Create 2018 on June 4, Baidu Chairman and CEO Robin Li announced that the company will mass produce Apolong, China’s first Level 4 (L4) fully autonomous bus. The release will be accompanied by an update to Apollo, Baidu’s open autonomous driving platform, which debuted at the first Baidu Create only a year ago.
In partnership with Chinese bus manufacturer King Long, Baidu has began high volume production of the minibus — which fits up to 14 passengers — in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian. Baidu will launch Apolong in major Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shenzhen, and Wuhan. As an L4 autonomous minibus, Apolong is designed for enclosed venues, such as airports and tourist spots. Li also revealed that Baidu plans to expand the service abroad to Japan in 2019, as it has partnered with SB Drive, the SoftBank Group’s autonomous driving division.
Source: Apollo’s GitHub Page.
The technology behind the minibus is Apollo 3.0, the fifth iteration of Baidu’s open autonomous driving platform which debuted only a year ago. The update introduced support for autonomous minibus volume manufacturing, helping partner companies prepare for real-world applications. Using Apollo 3.0, developers will be able to customize their Apolong minibus in a three-month time frame.
Apolong stands out from other autonomous vehicles in that its software system, Apollo 3.0, is an open platform, rather than a completely proprietary technology, allowing for more efficient mass production. At the conference, Baidu also showcased an integrated OS of Apollo 3.0 and DuerOS, Baidu’s conversational AI platform. The solution is designed specifically for high-volume production by facilitating the software-end development from six months to 30 days. Apollo 3.0 also ships with a hardware development platform, on which developers and partners can more easily obtain certified hardware parts at lower costs.
Evidently, Baidu aims to expand its influence on autonomous driving by fostering an open ecosystem for developers. In January 2018, Udacity and Baidu jointly launched an intro-level online course for self-driving development on Apollo.
Apollo aims to provide fully autonomous driving solutions for highway and city roads by 2021, according to the project’s roadmap. But as Apollo gets there, Baidu should continue to create open resources for its community of developers and partners.
（Top photo from Baidu)