Baidu said yesterday that it is launching its self-driving car technology for restricted environment in July before gradually introducing fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads by 2020.
According to the Chinese search giant, the project was named Apollo after the lunar landing programme. It added it would work with partners who will provide the vehicles, sensors and other components for the new technology.
As Baidu forayed into artificial intelligence, the company in January, named former Microsoft executive Qi Lu as chief operating officer.
Two months into the appointment, Baidu's chief scientist Andrew Ng, who led AI and augmented reality projects, said he would step down.
The company also launched a $200-million fund in October to focus on AI, AR and deep learning, and followed it up in September with a $3-billion fund to target mid- and late- stage start-ups.
"AI has great potential to drive social development, and one of AI's biggest opportunities is intelligent vehicles," Qi said in a statement.
According to Baidu, the Project Apollo platform would cover hardware and software, and provide partners with the tech and open-source code needed to help their own vehicles perceive obstacles, plan their routes, and otherwise move around.
The announcement comes as Baidu sought to take a lead position in the autonomous vehicle industry.
The Chinese company has aimed for debuting a self-driving car in the market by 2018.
It is also challenging rivals including Google on its home turf, building a team of engineers based in Silicon Valley and securing relevant permits so it could test vehicles in California.
According to the company, it was drawing on its strengths in artificial intelligence to build a ''collaborative ecosystem'' with Project Apollo.
Baidu said it would look for partnerships, working with companies that could provide ''the best and most compatible vehicles, sensors, and other components'' with which to test the platform.