The race for the automated vehicle is on. This time, it’s not about whether automotive OEMs or tech will own the vehicle. It’s a battle between Baidu, China’s web giant, and Google, and it isn’t clear who will win. Baidu has announced it will launch an unmanned car in the second half of this year. Despite speculation that Baidu will be working with BMW, Baidu hasn’t announced its automotive partner. The Baidu vehicle will provide the flexibility of some conventional controls, such as pedals, coupled with automation, unlike Google’s approach of being completely autonomous, without pedals and steering wheel.
One of the most practical uses of artificial intelligence is in the automated vehicle, as cars need to recognize and sort images they “see,” and make quick safety decisions. In a recent TED talk, Chris Urmson of Google revealed a few of the unusual things that Google cars have had to process while driving. The cars have successfully encountered a woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck on the road and a child driving a toy car in the road. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some even weirder encounters that Google is shielding us from.
Artificial intelligence is critical to the automated vehicle. This year Baidu won a prestigious international artificial intelligence competition at Stanford, but was just stripped of its title and barred from competing in 2016. Apparently, the Baidu team broke the rules on how many tests they could run. In the competition, computers had to recognize and sort images and classify objects into 1,000 different categories. The teams were allowed to run a limited number of tests to train their programs on identifying objects. The Baidu team exceeded the limits by submitting their program using different accounts. In an article in the New York Times, Jitendra Malik, an expert in computer vision, compared the actions of the Baidu team to drug use during a sports competition. “If you run a 9.5-second 100-meter sprint, but you are on steroids, then how can your result be trusted?” Malik said.
Automated vehicles aren’t the only location market Baidu is aggressively pursuing. With technology from IndoorAtlas, Baidu has rolled out indoor location to 270 million active users of its map application. The solution uses mobile device technology to create geomagnetic maps of indoor places to enable indoor search and to power store and product search, as well as way-finding. A physical map of a building is uploaded into an app on a mobile device, like a smartphone. Using the app, a person walks all corridors in a building, thereby adding location positioning and creating a map.
Let’s return to the topic of automated vehicles. Earlier this month, Uber suffered a blow when the California Labor Commissioner’s Office ruled that drivers are employees and not contractors, and therefore need to be so compensated. Taxi and limo services had been hurt by services like Uber, and they pressed for redress from what they felt was unfair competition.
Like Uber, the automated vehicle market will likely hit intense push-back from a number of industries that will be disrupted. These include insurers, taxi and truck drivers, and personal injury and traffic litigation attorneys. These groups may try to build regulatory roadblocks for automated vehicles. And as their businesses may suffer, the automated vehicle industry needs to think now about how to mitigate the damage and create allies. With a completely different political process, Baidu may encounter no such resistance in China — quite an advantage. Perhaps Baidu will be first out of the gate, but may not be the long-term winner. Think Ford Sync.