Baidu Inc. has announced that more than 50 partners have joined the Apollo open autonomous driving project, forming one of the largest and most diverse autonomous driving ecosystems to accelerate the development and adoption of autonomous driving.
Members of the Apollo alliance are from a wide range of sectors. They include leading vehicle manufacturers, such as Chery Automobile, FAW Group Corp., Changan Automobile Group and Great Wall Motors; Tier 1 suppliers, including Bosch, Continental Automotive, ZF Friedrichshafen AG and Desay SV Automotive; key components providers, such as NVIDIA, Microsoft Cloud, ZTE, Velodyne and TomTom; startups, including AutonomouStuff and Horizon Robotics; and ride hailing companies, such as UCAR and Grab Taxi.
The alliance also extends to five top universities and six local governments, including Wuhu in Anhui Province, Baoding in Hebei Province, Yizhuang in Beijing, Chongqing Liangjiang New Area and Shanghai International Automobile City.
Qi Lu, Baidu’s group president and chief operating officer, made the announcement recently at Baidu Create, the company’s inaugural AI Developer Conference in Beijing.
“Apollo is an important milestone for the automotive industry,” said Lu. “It is in essence the ‘Android’ of the autonomous driving industry, but more open and more powerful.”
First announced in April, Apollo is an open platform that provides a comprehensive, secure and reliable solution that supports all major features and functions of an autonomous vehicle. The project, named after the historic lunar landing program to illustrate its scale and complexity, consists of cloud services, an open software stack, along with reference hardware and vehicle platforms.
Apollo can bolster the work of any developer in autonomous driving, using high-quality source code and data, which developers can use as much or as little as they wish. Open source code portions can be modified, and open capability components are accessible through an API that can be replaced with proprietary implementations.
One of the biggest challenges to developing a robust autonomous driving system is having sufficient data to iterate the software and train the AI models. Apollo’s simulation tools and services provide a key solution that is backed by vast amounts of actual autonomous driving scene data, which enables developers to accelerate software iteration and ultimately shorten the development cycle.
“Apollo is not solely Baidu’s. It belongs to everyone in the ecosystem. And as we and our partners contribute to the platform in our areas of specialty, we all gain more, with the results far greater than just our own,” said Lu.
As an open platform, Apollo’s capabilities will be expanded gradually, beginning with autonomous driving technologies for restricted areas in July and fully autonomous driving on urban roads and highways by the end of 2020.
At the Baidu Create conference, AutonomouStuff, a U.S.-based autonomous system components supplier, showcased two cars they converted into autonomous vehicles in just three days using code and capabilities provided by Apollo’s first released 1.0 version. The two vehicles completed circuits around a short track near the conference venue.
“The data and technologies Apollo can provide will increase significantly as partners grow,” said Robert Hambrick, founder and CEO of AutonomouStuff. “This means developers no longer need to do duplicate work developing low-level technologies but can spend more resources on later-stage development, which in turn will greatly accelerate the progress of the autonomous driving industry.”
In a speech at the conference, Pradeep Gupta, senior manager of autonomous driving at NVIDIA, said, “Apollo’s strategy of opening up its resources is a step in the right direction. Through close collaboration with each and every player in the industry, we can more effectively build a new and complete autonomous driving ecosystem.”
Before the kickoff of Baidu Create, Baidu and FAW Group Corp., a major Chinese carmaker, unveiled a comprehensive cooperation agreement to jointly explore the commercialization of autonomous driving technology. Qian Li, director of FAW R&D Center, said, “FAW and Baidu will work together across products, technologies, services and other areas to create an ‘internet plus car’ innovation cooperation model.”
Chery Automobile also attended the conference as an important ecosystem partner. “With the joint efforts of Apollo’s ecosystem partners, we hope to drive the construction of autonomous driving related laws and accelerate the mass production of autonomous cars,” said Weiyi Lu, assistant general manager of Chery.