Autonomous Mini Buses Will Carry Passengers In Japan, Baidu and Softbank's SB Drive Join Hands
Self-Driving Buses In Japan: Baidu & SB Drive’s Collaboration To Carry Passengers

As every major manufacturer operating in the automobile industry has launched its self-driving cars project, the race to gain the major share of the market will toughen as they launch their products. The advantages of these cars are immense; however, it is difficult to develop the autonomous vehicles in which humans will be present, but no one will drive it. The entire dependence of technology to drive cars and reach the destination without undergoing any accidents is nothing short of a spectacle and a miracle. But leading manufacturers such as Uber, Google, Tesla, and others have poured an enormous amount of money and resources in the development of autonomous vehicles.

Every major market player is ramping up to gain first mover’s advantage. Some of them are in testing phase and testing the technology on public roads. Though some have not gained expected results, the research and development are underway. Along with R&D activities, manufacturers are collaborating with local players to enter the market and gain support from initiatives by local governments such as tax exemption. The collaboration also helps in combining expertise and make better products. Some manufacturers are moving beyond developing autonomous cars. They aim to build autonomous mini-buses.

Chinese search engine giant Baidu has joined hands with SB Drive, the Softbank subsidiary and manufacturer King Long for development of mini-buses and launch them in Japan next year. The collaboration was announced at the annual AI developer conference Create Baidu in Beijing. Based on the agreement, Apolong autonomous mini bus of Baidu will be exported from China to Japan in early 2019. This agreement includes an order of 10 buses. This marks a significant milestone as it will be the first time for export of autonomous vehicles.

Charles Zhang, President & CEO of Baidu Japan Inc., who led the project, said, “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.”

Apolong is an autonomous mini bus, developed in collaboration by Baidu and King Long. It is powered by the Apollo open source autonomous driving technologies developed by Baidu. Moreover, it became first fully autonomous electric bus of China to get to the volume manufacturing phase.

“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.”

Saji added that autonomous technology will solve many problems in the future. Moreover, the launch of Apolong will be an important step in maintaining public transportation in Japan. Baidu also launched an AI chip to run intensive computing in autonomous driving cars. This chip, dubbed as “Kunlun”, has been developed by a collaboration of many tech giants across the world. This chip will play a crucial role in 14-seater mini bus designed to run on streets of Japan.