Baidu, Inc. (NASDAQ: BIDU), SB Drive, a subsidiary of Softbank dedicated to self-driving technology research; and King Long, a leading commercial vehicle manufacturer in China, today announced a strategic partnership to jointly develop and deploy a version of the Apolong self-driving mini bus for the Japanese market. Under the agreement, ten Apolong mini buses will be exported to Japan from China in early 2019. This agreement marks the first time autonomous vehicles will be exported from China.
Apolong is a fully autonomous mini bus co-developed by Baidu and King Long. The mini bus is powered by the Apollo open source autonomous driving technologies created by Baidu and is China’s first fully self-driving electric bus to enter the volume production phase. At Baidu Create, Baidu’s annual AI developer conference held on July 4 in Beijing, more than 6,000 attendees witnessed a live stream of the 100th Apolong bus leaving the assembly line.
“Autonomous vehicles will have a profound impact on our society. We are very excited to bring the Apolong mini bus to Japan and work with local experts to unlock the benefits of this transformative technology. The open collaborations between engineers and researchers from both countries will undoubtedly accelerate the development of autonomous vehicles,” said Charles Zhang, President and CEO of Baidu Japan Inc., who led the project.
“We are excited to be partners with Baidu and King Long on this innovative project to help accelerate the adoption of self-driving technology in Japan.” said Yuki Saji, CEO of SB Drive Corp.” In Japan, public transportation is facing a number of challenges, including traffic network reduction, driver shortage and driver aging. We expect self-driving technology will solve these problems in the near future. Launching “Apolong” is an important step to maintain these public transportation in Japan.”
Baidu’s Global Business Unit is focused on working with local partners to deploy Baidu’s AI technologies and products overseas, especially key projects like the Apollo open autonomous driving technology and the DuerOS conversational AI platform.
The Apollo open autonomous driving platform was launched last year and is one of the world’s largest and most diverse autonomous driving ecosystem. Since its launch, the platform has garnered 116 global partners from automotive and technology industries, including Ford, Bosch, Velodyne, Intel, NVIDIA, and Microsoft.
As a member of Apollo, King Long began working with Baidu in October 2017 to develop the Apolong buses. The first fleet will be deployed in geo-fenced places like parks, industrial campuses and airports in five Chinese cities. In the same year, SB Drive, a subsidiary under SoftBank dedicated to autonomous vehicles research and development, conducted autonomous bus testing in Okinawa as part of the “Autonomous Driving System” program designated by the Cabinet Office of Japan. This made them an ideal partner for this project.
Aside from the latest success with the buses, Baidu’s Global Business Unit has successfully commercialized various AI products overseas. In Japan, Baidu’s AI powered voice keyboard, Simeji, has become Japan’s largest Japanese Kaomoji and Emoji content provider. The high-quality native ad recommendation platform, PopIn, has also covered most mainstream media in Japan, South Korea, Singapore and other countries.
In the future, Baidu Global Business Unit will continue to promote open collaborations and partnerships on technology, product, talent and capital to accelerate the deployment of AI.