Baidu’s New Fund Increases the Heat in Race for Autonomous Cars

Baidu the giant search engine in China will spend over 10 billion yuan or $1.5 billion on new projects for autonomous vehicles during the next three years, it announced on Thursday.

This move is the company’s attempt to narrow the gap with its rivals in the U.S. by taking on help from the outside.

The launch of the Apollo Fund by Baidu coincides with Apollo 1.5 being released. Apollo 1.5 is the most recent version of open-source self-driving vehicle software.

Baidu is hoping to have its vehicles ready for driving in China by 2020, but it may face several challenges from Chinese regulators, who have stopped it previously from testing its vehicles on highways.

During July, Beijing police said they were carrying out an investigation into whether Baidu broke traffic rules in the city by conducting a test of a driverless car using public roads as part of a media event.

Earlier in 2017, Baidu opened its technology to other parties. The company said it now has over 70 partners in several different fields of the car industry, which is up from the 50 it had during July.

There already exists stiff competition in the self-driving vehicle industry, particularly in the U.S. Silicon Valley area, where there are 40 companies that have registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles in California to receive testing licenses.

That list includes some of the major car makers as well as giants in the tech industry like Apple, Waymo, whose parent company is Alphabet, and Uber.

The collaborative approach by Baidu seems to be different from some tech rivals it has in California, who have closely guarded their tech software and in a few cases sued one another over trade secrets that were allegedly stolen.

Waymo on Thursday said it would be seeking $2.6 billion from Uber for an alleged theft of just one of many trade secrets that were allegedly stolen by a former executive.

Baidu released its news about self-driving vehicles after joining forces with China Life Insurance Co. to launch a private equity fund of $1 billion targeting new investment opportunities in artificial intelligence, the Internet, online finance as well as mobility sectors, during August.

The new Apollo 1.5 software opens five more core capabilities that include planning, cloud simulation, obstacle perception, end to end deep learning and high-definition maps.

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