Baidu, Google's rival search engine in China, has announced that the hundredth Apolong self-driving mini bus has just rolled off the production line, making it the first fully autonomous electric bus to reach volume production.
"2018 marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving", said Baidu's Robin Li. The buses, which will initially deployed in tourist spots, airports, and other controlled, or geo-fenced areas. Level 4 operations means that the vehicles can take over all driving in certain conditions.
They are set to enter Japan's self-driving market as shuttle buses at nuclear power stations or in Tokyo to ferry around elderly people in local communities.
This is one short of the highest level, where vehicles can operate anywhere on the road.
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Co-produced by Baidu and Chinese bus manufacturer King Long, they will soon be pressed into commercial use in enclosed areas such as tourist areas and airports in several cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and the country's new megacity Xiong'an.
The Apolong autonomous mini bus - which is being manufactured in Xiamen, in the Fujian province of southeast China - will make its debut at the Baidu World conference in Beijing in November.
Autonomous vehicles are a key part of the Nasdaq-listed company's future as it seeks to reshape itself into a major player in artificial intelligence, in line with China's national strategy to develop excellence in the field. The latest version of Apollo also announced during the conference supports valet parking and integrates with Baidu's software that has facial recognition capabilities and can detect if a driver is showing signs of fatigue.