Chinese tech giant Baidu has revealed a self-driving car it says can be produced for ¥250,000 ($37,000) – a quarter of the cost of manufacturing comparable vehicles.
The Apollo RT6 is due to hit Chinese roads in 2023 and was designed from the start as a self-driving car, meaning its sensors are embedded around its chassis instead of being bolted into place.
The eight LIDAR units and dozen cameras enable level four autonomy, which means that operations are limited to a defined area and human intervention is possible. But Baidu thinks autonomous operations are reliable enough to offer the car with a detachable steering wheel.
Removing the steering wheel means more space for passengers or a coffee machine – one of several in-car commerce options Baidu officials suggested when launching the vehicle today. The ability to add vending machines reflects the RT6’s design for taxi service only, which also saw the vehicle feature a flat floor and sliding door.
Baidu is delighted with the cost of manufacturing the car, suggesting that, combined with eliminating drivers, the cost of driving a taxi could be cut in half.
Which seems like bad news for Chinese pro riders, although Baidu’s event also offered them happier news. The AI-infused efforts promise to detect traffic on the nation’s roads and alter the timing of traffic lights accordingly to eliminate congestion. The company also mentioned altering traffic flows after analyzing weather events such as fog, so that drivers and the cargo they carry are not delayed.
The software that makes this kind of thing possible is Baidu’s industrial AI platform, Kaiwu – which Baidu has announced has been updated to serve industries such as control, industrial security, conservation energy, emissions reduction and manufacturing.
A video demonstration of Kaiwu at work showed a worker trying to enter a wind turbine to perform maintenance tasks, but without first donning protective gear. Lights flashed and buzzers sounded as he made this attempt. Once properly dressed, he was able to ascend and, once atop the giant machine, was able to use the data analyzed by Baidu AI to troubleshoot operations.
Baidu’s presentation also touched on consumer technology, revealing that a personal digital assistant named DuXiaoxiao can now chat with Baidu app users and do a reasonable job of maintaining a conversation thanks to – you guessed it! – Baidu AI.
DuXiaoxiao also sang a pop song and was joined by a male avatar in a duet.
What a time to be alive. ®