Chinese search engine Baidu Inc. on Thursday, 21 September 2017, announced a 10 billion yuan ($1.52 billion) autonomous driving fund which is a part of a wider plan to speed up its technical development and compete with its U.S. rivals. This newly christened “Apollo Fund” will invest in 100 autonomous driving projects over the next 3 years.
After years of internal development, in April, Baidu decided to open its autonomous driving technology to third parties. This move it hopes will accelerate development and help it compete with U.S. firms Tesla Inc. and Google project Waymo.
In its latest update, Baidu says partners can now access latest obstacle perception technology and high-definition maps, among many other features.
This comes amid a wider reshuffle of Baidu’s corporate strategy as the company is looking for new profit streams outside its core search business. This had resulted in loss of a large chunk of ad revenue in 2016 following strict govt. regulations on medical advertising.
Baidu now has 70 partners across several fields in the auto industry, it says. Existing partners of Baidu include microprocessors firm Nvidia Corp and mapping service TomTom NV.
Despite rapid growth in its partner ecosystem, Baidu faces several challenges like negotiating local Chinese regulations, which have in the past, stopped the company from testing on highways. In July local Beijing police said it was investigating a complaint that the company had broken city traffic rules by testing a driverless car on public roads as a part of demonstration in a press event.