A top executive from Baidu's telematics division believes the company will become the word leader in driverless by 2020, according to a report in today's South China Morning Post.
Citing Xu Yongming, the general manager of Baidu's telematics division as the source, Baidu executives are confident China's equivalent of Google can put all the pieces into place to create the world's most massive driverless fleet in less than three years ahead of Waymo, which is already years ahead of Baidu in its driverless vehicle development, and other potential competitors, such as Lyft and Uber.
Baidu executives say the company will draw on the resources of its Apollo artificial intelligence (AI) project to become the world leader in driverless, although Yongming remained short on specifics about how the company hopes to do that.
During the interview, Yongming also claimed Baidu has put its driverless program's management woes behind it. This will be a tall order after at least two high-level defections. They include Andrew Ng, adjunct professor of computer science at Stanford University and a former top Google AI researcher, who left Baidu in March as chief scientist. Yong Dian Jian, a staff computer vision scientist for Tesla since May, left Baidu in March 2016.
Yongming said Baidu is catching up to its US counterparts thanks, in part, to recent partnership, including Baidu's announcement in July it has added 50 more "partners" in its development of driverless cars, including Microsoft, Robert Bosch, and Continental AG.
Besides the partnerships, Baidu has yet to divulge any top engineering talent it has recruited on par with Andrew Ng who served as the underlying engineering brainpower to execute a project as seemingly ambitious as the first successful moon landing (on which the Apollo project's name is based). The company has a driverless research center in Silicon Valley, but thus far, we haven't seen any evidence of working fleet tests there or in China.
If Baidu has made significant headway in developing something that will make it the driverless world leader in 2020 — ahead of Waymo, Uber, and Lyft — it is indeed a very well kept secret.
Apple veteran and former Tesla Autopilot engineer Chris Lattner tweets he "is super excited to join Google Brain next week." His mission at Google Brain will be to help "democratize AI" and "make it more accessible to everyone." Lattner, who developed the Swift programming language while at Apple, left Tesla earlier this year six months after joining the company in January.