Swedish vehicle manufacturer Volvo is teaming up with Chinese technology giant Baidu to build autonomous taxis. Together they are aiming to launch a level 4 driverless ride-hailing service in China by 2020.
The news follows the announcement of another two-year Baidu project, with Ford, in which the pair will begin level 4 testing on the streets of Beijing before the end of the year.
Industry forecasts predict China will represent the world’s largest market for autonomous vehicles in the coming decades. Around 14.5 million autonomous cars will be sold in China by 2040, according to market research firm ISH Markit.
Tapping into the Chinese market
Realistically, partnering with local companies is the only way manufacturers and developers from Europe and the West are going to see a penny of that potential.
So-called Level 4 autonomy requires vehicles be capable of operating autonomously within a specific geographic area. The high-definition maps needed to help vehicles navigate safely are often beyond the reach of companies that aren’t local to an area.
Commenting on the partnership, Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars, said:
“With Baidu we take a big step forward in commercialising our autonomous compatible cars, built on Volvo’s industry-leading safety technology.”
There is a strong development in autonomous drive in China, where Baidu is a leading player, and the market there offers huge opportunities for us as the supplier of choice for autonomous fleets.
Dr Ya-Qin Zhang, President of Baidu, suggested that the manufacturer’s safety record was a factor in the partnership decision.
“Since its founding a century ago, Volvo has kept safety as its core mission, pushing safety development forward with significant innovations,” he said.
“We are very glad that Volvo Cars has established a strategic partnership with Baidu in the development of a fully autonomous car compatible with our autonomous driving platform Apollo. We look forward to working closely with Volvo to provide the world with the safest auto products for the benefit of humankind.”
Plus: Intel’s Mobileye, Volkswagen, Champion Motors to launch autonomous ride service in Israel
Elsewhere in the self-driving vehicle space, the Volkswagen Group, Intel’s Mobileye and Champion Motors have outlined plans to launch an autonomous ride-hailing service in Israel.
According to a statement released by Intel, Volkswagen will provide electric vehicles for the project and Mobileye will bring its self-driving software to the equation.
Israeli vehicle importer Champion Motors will manage the project’s fleet logistics and implement the infrastructure required to scale up Intel and Volkswagon’s Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) ambitions.
Professor Amnon Shashua, Mobileye CEO and senior vice president at Intel, commented:
“We are delighted to embark on a joint venture with a world-leading automotive OEM, aimed at delivering a transformational mobility service.
“Our service aims to intelligently and dynamically adapt to the urban mobility needs of the 21st Century, catering to the mobility-mileage demands within the city while minimizing the direct/indirect incurred societal costs – air/noise pollution, congestion and safety.”
The groundwork will begin early next year, before rolling out in phases to reach full commercialisation in 2022.
Internet of Business says
This year has seen several big partnerships between hardware and software companies in the autonomous vehicle space.
This illustrates the complexity of combining AI, computer vision, high-definition maps and safety systems to form the vehicles of the future. It’s also a measure of geographical realities. Localised partnerships are often required for companies with ambitions beyond their usual confines.
Failing that, the alternative is to simply set up shop in high-potential markets, as Alphabet’s Waymo decided to do in China earlier this year – following in the tyre tracks of Mercedes Benz owner Daimler.