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Baidu teams with ride-hailing service to fast track self-driving cars

The Chinese search giant will get maps it needs for autonomous driving.

VCG via Getty Images

If Chinese search giant Baidu is going to fulfill its dreams of building a self-driving car platform, it needs maps accurate enough that vehicles can safely get from point A to point B. Thankfully, it has a solution: the company has just forged a partnership with the state-backed ride-hailing service Shouqi. Baidu will supply Shouqi with the tools it needs for both its existing business and driverless cars, including map services, its Apollo autonomous platform and its conversational AI platform DuerOS. In return, Shouqi will supply Baidu with high-precision maps.

It's no secret as to why Baidu is signing a deal like this: it's making a big bet on self-driving technology, and it doesn't have much time to fulfill some of its promises. The company wants to start producing autonomous self-buses in 2018, and it expects mass production of Level 4 (that is, almost entirely self-driving) vehicles with BAIC Group in 2021. A transportation firm like Shouqi is effectively a shortcut: it already has the kind of real-world map data that would take Baidu months or years to collect. This collaboration won't make a difference outside of China, of course, but Baidu only needs to serve its populous home market to become a heavyweight in the robotic vehicle business.