Jul 312014
Baidu is working on an autonomous car. ©AFP PHOTO

Baidu is working on an autonomous car. ©AFP PHOTO

(Relaxnews) – Proving that Google does not have a monopoly on the future of personal mobility, the Chinese search engine could overtake its US counterpart with its own take on the autonomous car.

Speaking with The Next Web, the head of the company’s Institute of Deep Learning – think Baidu’s version of Google’s X lab – Kai Yu compared the car his team is developing to a horse in that it will be autonomous but can still be controlled by the driver.

“I think in the future, a car should not totally replace the driver but should really give the driver freedom. Freedom means the car is intelligent enough to operate by itself, like a horse, and make decisions under different road situations. Whenever the driver wants to resume control, you can do that. It’s like riding on a horse, rather than just sitting in a car where you only have a button,” he told the publication.

That means that Baidu’s car will come complete with a steering wheel, plus brake and accelerator pedals and although the company has given no clear indication as to when it will be galloping into production, there’s a good chance that it could arrive before Google’s fully autonomous take on the future of personal mobility.

Google’s car, announced in May, will remove drivers from the equation altogether and will instead rely on a host of sensors, GPS, the internet, special maps and a layer of artificial intelligence to process data and make contextual decisions that humans make automatically by dent of being human.

Images of the prototype got the tech world very excited and have no doubt piqued consumers’ interest too. However, as the recent Transportation Research Board Workshops on Road Vehicle Automation conference, held July 14-18, highlights, we are very, very far away from truly driverless cars becoming a reality.

Google is committed to removing the driver completely as it identifies the human as the weakest link in the mobility chain. Cars don’t fall asleep, text and drive, or get drunk. However, unlike computers, humans don’t have operating system crashes and understand social cues and can process contextual information.

A straw poll conducted at the event which was attended by academics, researchers and automotive industry experts and covered by MIT Technology Review, suggests that these technological obstacles still have to be overcome and that they are immense. So much so that when asked when they’d trust an autonomous car to drive their kids to school, more than 50 percent of the 500 attendees said 2030 at the earliest while 20 percent said 2040 and almost 10 percent said “never.”

The compromise seems to be driver-controlled cars that become fully autonomous in very specific situations, such as parking, highway cruising and stop-start congested queuing, systems for which are either already ready to be deployed like at Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW or are in the final stages of testing such as at Volvo.

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