When it comes to self-driving car development in China, most roads go through Baidu, for now. For all the attention paid to autonomous vehicle testing in the U.S., there’s plenty to gawk at in China. German and American automakers are making moves there, many of which involve cozying up to Baidu, a local web-search king that also has the most-experienced Chinese autonomous vehicle software program. To be sure, the capabilities of Baidu’s tech are perceived to be limited, as are those of programs in the West.
The latest news is Ford’s agreement to let Baidu test its own self-driving car software on Ford’s Lincoln vehicles, which are specially equipped for such testing, in Beijing. Ford is one of two western automakers to have such an arrangement with Baidu, according to a Baidu spokesman. Germany’s automakers, including Daimler, appear to have gone one step further by getting a license to road-test their own autonomous vehicle software prototypes in Beijing, in an area that is specially designated for such testing. (A Ford spokesman said the company had no plans to do the same.) Still, Western automakers cannot go it alone: the Chinese government tightly controls mapping data, requiring automakers to license such data from a Chinese firm. Baidu happens to also be the leader in maps in China.