In developing cars that can spot traffic congestion, operate voice-activated systems and detect and avoid obstacles, manufacturers are investing heavily in artificial intelligence, with Chinese web services company Baidu now ready to share its secrets on driverless cars with them.
Car manufacturers have just made their future goals very clear at this year’s Auto Shanghai in China, the world’s largest automotive trade show, which ended on 28 April.
Smart energy-saving batteries
Volkswagen has embarked on a strategic partnership with Mobvoi, a Chinese startup specialising in voice recognition. The German carmaker is investing $180m in the partnership, while Mobvoi is also developing a smart rearview mirror with navigation and instant messaging capabilities. For its part, Toyota announced at the end of March that it would be allocating $35m to the development of smart batteries that can regulate the amount of power they use.
Meanwhile, US manufacturer Ford is investing $1bn over five years in the AI firm Argo, the aim being to develop an autonomous vehicle that can operate without driver intervention in certain situations, thanks to sensors and powerful software.
AI making cars safer
German carmaker Audi has teamed up with Chinese internet giants Tencent and Baidu to develop cars capable of delivering computer-aided services for drivers such as interactive maps showing restaurants, shops and petrol stations.
The challenge is to provide much more than comfort-related functions, however, with IA making cars safer by giving them the ability to avoid obstacles such as other cars, pedestrians and animals.
Picking up signals relayed by the sensors of other vehicles, the car of the future will thus be able to identify the location, for example, of black ice on the road. Road safety is also the driving force behind the developments made by Sweden’s Volvo, which is owned by the Chinese company Geely and is a pioneer in autonomous cars.
“Humans are excellent at perceiving reality but once they are able to access information on the road environment, computers are better at making decisions than humans,” said Volvo CEO, Hakan Samuelsson.
Apollo, the Android of driverless cars?
The pace of all these projects is picking up. Chinese manufacturer Changan has announced that it will begin mass production of driverless cars by 2025, while Chinese startup Nio said in March that it would be have an electric autonomous vehicle available on the U.S. market by 2020. It is nonetheless very difficult for high-tech groups to metamorphosise into manufacturers.
Seemingly aware of that, Baidu, the so-called ‘Chinese Google’, recently unveiled Apollo, an ambitious ‘open platform’ where it will share its driverless-car technologies with other manufacturers. “Baidu feels this could be ‘rights-free’ technology and wants to make it available to as many manufacturers as possible, much like Android (Google’s now-dominant operating system for smartphones),” commented James Chao of business consultancy IHS Markit. It is an avenue that has the potential to be hugely profitable for Baidu, which sees it as an opportunity to attract new users to its services.
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