Baidu, one of China's biggest technology companies, said Tuesday it would open source its self-driving-car software in hopes of accelerating progress.
The move shows Baidu is serious about competing with the likes of Tesla as it looks to release the vehicles as part of a shared shuttle service in 2018 and to mass produce the cars in 2021.
Tesla has its sights set on China, which is becoming a more lucrative market for electric-car makers as the government prepares to tighten fuel-emission standards. The Chinese juggernaut Tencent recently acquired a 5% stake in Tesla.
Baidu, which has used electric vehicles for its self-driving-car fleet, said it would open source code for obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control, and vehicle operating systems. The company is calling its new open-sourcing efforts Project Apollo, named after the US lunar-landing program.
The tech giant will first open source its code for autonomous driving in a restricted environment in July. Baidu will gradually introduce more code over time, eventually releasing the software supporting full self-driving capabilities in 2020.
Baidu has faced some setbacks in the self-driving-car space. BMW and Baidu broke off their autonomous-research partnership in November over disagreements about the pace of development. Andrew Ng, Baidu's chief artificial-intelligence expert, is officially leaving the company at the end of April, Bloomberg reported.
As part of Project Apollo, Baidu said it would initiate partnership alliances to accelerate the pace of driverless-car research.
Baidu has tested self-driving cars on public roads in China and California. The company has retrofitted cars made by Chinese auto companies, like BYD and BAIC Motor, with its technology and Velodyne's lidar, a sensor that helps autonomous cars detect objects, on its vehicles.
Both Baidu and Ford invested $150 million in Velodyne last August.
Competition in autonomous driving is mounting as tech companies and traditional automakers vie for a slice of the pie.
Tesla cars are already being built with the hardware to support full self-driving capabilities, and the company plans to demonstrate the technology by having a vehicle drive itself across the US by the end of this year. Waymo, the company run under Google's parent company, Alphabet, is developing its driverless-car hardware in-house and may introduce a robot taxi service at the end of this year, though that has yet to be confirmed.
Ford has poured billions into its self-driving-car efforts and plans to release fully self-driving cars in a fleet setting in 2021. General Motors, which acquired the self-driving-car startup Cruise Automation in 2016, plans to test thousands of self-driving Chevy Bolts in 2018.
Baidu will have to accelerate its efforts if it plans to be a viable competitor when these cars start getting released as early as next year.
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