Chinese search engine giant Baidu has partnered with SoftBank subsidiary SB Drive and manufacturer King Long to deploy a self-driving mini bus service to Japan early next year.
The agreement was announced at Create Baidu, the company's annual AI developer conference in Beijing. Under the agreement, a version of Baidu's Apolong autonomous mini bus will be exported to Japan from China in early 2019. This agreement, which for now includes an order of 10 buses, marks the first time autonomous vehicles will be exported from China.
Apolong, co-developed with King Long, is outfitted with Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving system, which is capable of Level 4 operations, a designation by automotive engineering association SAE International that means the vehicles take over all driving in certain conditions. The buses will initially be deployed in tourist spots, airports and other controlled, or geo-fenced areas.
Baidu announced earlier at the conference that it has started volume production of the autonomous mini buses in partnership with King Long. The buses are being produced at King Long's manufacturing facility in Xiamen, in southeastern China’s Fujian province.
Baidu plans to launch the autonomous bus service in several Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shenzhen, Pingtan and Wuhan.