Baidu has become a serial bus maker as the first 100 Apolong roll off the lines. Built together with King Long, the mini buses drive electrically and autonomously and after the roll-out in China, Japan is next on the list.
To expand in Nippon, Baidu and King Long already signed a cooperation agreement with Softbank. Together they will adapt the Apalong to suit Japanese requirements and deliver by 2019.
Over in China, production of the Apalong is right on track after Baidu announced earlier this year that they were scaling up production (we reported). The first 100 electric buses will go into operation in several cities in China including Beijing, Xiongan New Area, Shenzhen, Pingtan and Wuhan.
Being autonomous, the buses will serve in confined areas such as airports and all controlled by Baidu’s open source autonomous driving software, Apollo.
It is the latter that is likely Baidu’s main concern when looking into the EV market. Jenny Wu, managing partner of Baidu Capital, summed up their interest as follows: “Baidu is dedicated to building a new generation artificial intelligence open platform for autonomous driving in China,” and whilst she referred to WM Motors, an EV startup Baidu is invested in reportedly. Still, the same can be said about Baidu’s latest electric shuttle venture.
The Apollo platform is clearly made for widespread adoption and Baidu says it has garnered 116 global partners, including Ford, Bosch, Velodyne, Intel, NVIDIA, and Microsoft.
The Apolong bus will arrive in Japan next year and serve communities of the elderly as well as staff working at nuclear power plants. Baidu has been chosen after taking part in autonomous bus testing in Okinawa conducted by SB Drive. It was part of the ‘Autonomous Driving System’ programme held by the Cabinet Office of Japan.