Chinese web search giant Baidu has set up a $1.5 billion fund to support self-driving vehicle startups. This is in addition to Baidu’s already operational autonomous driving platform Apollo which it rolled out for the automobile industry free of cost in April. It has already roped in over 70 car-makers on what it is being touted as the “Android of the auto industry”. The new fund will fund 100 self-driving projects in three years, Baidu announced in a NASDAQ filing.
The new $1.5 billion fund is in association with China Life Insurance Group and will be pushed into late-stage funding in self-driving startups. Baidu has also rolled out an update to Apollo with added features such as cloud simulation, high-definition maps, end-to-end deep learning, and obstacle perception to “provide more comprehensive solutions to developers and ecosystem partners to accelerate the deployment of autonomous driving,” it stated in the filing. ALSO READ: Apple shifts focus from hardware to software in self-driving car project: Report
Till date, about 1,300 companies have downloaded the Apollo source code, and over 100 others have applied for open data via the Apollo website. Baidu is also said to be testing its self-driving car technology in the US the home of Alphabet’s Waymo which recently partnered with Intel to ramp up its autonomous driving sensors. There’s Apple that is developing its own technology in the sector, as well as sampling self-driving shuttle services in Silicon Valley. And then, there’s Samsung that has just secured a permit to run its self-driving vehicles on public roads in the US. ALSO READ: Samsung will now test self-driving cars in Google Waymo s backyard
The Chinese firm is also partnering with Udacity, a Silicon Valley online education platform to foster required talent globally by introducing self-driving courses, certifications, special competitions and other talent services. Baidu is placing its bets in an industry that will soon see Hyundai, Nissan, Microsoft and several other tech and auto corporations. All of these have secured self-driving permits. By 2050, the “passenger economy is estimated to reach $7 trillion.