Baidu Co-founder and CEO Robin Li shared a bold vision for the future of transportation at the company’s Baidu World 2021 conference. He placed a particularly strong emphasis on autonomous vehicles, suggesting that future vehicles will essentially be wheeled robots that grow and learn alongside their owner.
In that regard, Li explained that an autonomous vehicle could serve as a personal assistant that can carry out basic commands, and learn user preferences to better meet the needs of the people in the car. Such a vehicle would identify passengers with face and voice recognition technology, and be outfitted with a collection of internal and external sensors to monitor the vehicle’s surroundings and the conditions in the interior.
Baidu showcased those ideas in a concept vehicle that was displayed during the event. That vehicle had a transparent roof, ‘zero-gravity’ seats, and a smart display and control pad, but notably did not have a steering wheel or pedals, since the vehicle is designed to be completely autonomous.
“We believe that cars of the future will be robocars,” said Li. “They will drive autonomously, act as both an intelligent assistant and loyal companion, and be self-learning.”
While that technology is still a few years away from wide-scale commercial deployment, Baidu did call attention to its Baidu Apollo autonomous driving program, which has recorded more than 400,000 rides and clocked more than 8.7 million miles on the road halfway through 2021. The service is now active in four Chinese cities (Beijing, Guangzhou, Changsha, and Cangzhou), and the company is hoping to expand to more territories following the debut of its Luobo Kuaipao robotaxi mobile platform, which was also unveiled during Baidu World 2021.
Other highlights of the Baidu smart vehicle portfolio include the Apollo Navigation Pilot (ANP), Automated Valet Parking (AVP), and the Baidu ACE Intelligent Transportation Engine. As the names would suggest, the first two are geared toward navigation and parking, while the latter is a smart city solution that helps coordinate traffic lights and other infrastructure to reduce congestion. Baidu also offers the DuerOS voice assistant, which had already appeared in more than 300 car models as of 2019.