Baidu CEO Li Yanhong, also known as Robin Li (right), and Deng Zhonghan, chief scientist of chipmaker Vimicro, are interviewed as members of the 13th National Committee of the CPPCC on the sidelines of the closing of the first session at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. (Provided to China Daily)
Large-scale commercial use of self-driving technology may become a reality sooner than expected, according to search giant Baidu Inc.
"It may take three to five years to put fully autonomous-driving vehicles on truly open roads," Baidu Chairman and CEO Li Yanhong－also known as Robin Li－said on Thursday. Li, also a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, spoke on the sidelines of the CPPCC's closing meeting. [Special coverage]
Miao Wei, minister of industry and information technology, said in an earlier interview that it would take eight to 10 years before self-driving vehicles are available for large-scale commercial operations.
"I am more optimistic and believe that we might achieve that goal ahead of schedule," Li said.
Baidu plans to mass-produce self-driving buses this year in cooperation with commercial vehicle manufacturer Xiamen King Long United Automotive Industry Co. They could run in designated areas, such as scenic spots, according to Li.
Baidu also will work with major car manufacturers next year to promote the development of self-driving technology. There are about 90 partners taking part in its open autonomous driving platform Apollo, Li said.
The Baidu CEO added that artificial intelligence-enabled digital assistants with voice functions have stepped into people's daily lives, and there will be more AI applications in the future. "AI will become an important driving force for China's economic growth in the next 20 to 50 years."
China expects vehicles with some autonomous functions will account for 50 percent of new vehicles sold in the country by 2020, according to a guideline released by the National Development and Reform Commission in January.
In order to improve and perfect the legal system for self-driving technologies, the government will speed up the drafting of regulations for public road tests of autonomous driving and revise the current road safety regulations "when conditions are mature", according to the plan.
Traditional car manufacturers are ramping up efforts to promote the large-scale commercialization of self-driving technologies. SAIC Motor Corp Ltd signed a deal with Intel Corp to develop its self-driving cars. BYD is working on self-driving technologies itself, as well as in cooperation with Baidu.
However, industry analysts say there is a long way to go before fully autonomous cars are integrated into people's daily lives.
"Intelligent vehicles with fully autonomous functions may account for 10 percent of the new vehicles in 2020," said Yang Diange, dean of automobile engineering at Tsinghua University, estimating that "self-driving vehicles will come into our daily lives in 2030."
"More tests are needed before such vehicles can reach mass production and enter large-scale commercial application because of widespread safety concerns," said Zeng Zhiling, managing director of LMC Automotive Consulting Co.
Zeng warned that self-driving vehicles are vulnerable to cyber attacks. He said that since these vehicles are highly intelligent and networked, there is a possibility that hackers could break into the system and pose a great danger to road safety.