Chinese search engine giant Baidu Inc. (NASDAQ: BIDU) tested a self-driving car in Beijing in June and announced Thursday that the company has received authorization from the state of California to test the vehicle on the state’s roads. Baidu said in April that it had begun putting together a team of more than 100 researchers in Silicon Valley to work on the project.
To say that autonomous vehicle development is a crowded field is, perhaps, to state the obvious. Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) kicked off its self-driving car project in 2009 and recent reports indicate that the company is planning to take on ride-hailing service Uber with a fleet of Google’s own self-driving cars. Uber is expected to initiate a test of its own in Pittsburgh later this month.
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) invested $1 billion in Beijing-based Didi Chuxing, a ride-hailing service that merged with Uber’s Chinese subsidiary last month. Apple has also appointed a senior executive to head up what many believe to be its own self-driving car program, Project Titan.
Traditional automakers have also gotten into the game. The Detroit Three have acquired or invested in a variety of companies and technologies, while foreign makers like Daimler, BMW and Volvo have their own development projects. BMW is supplying the vehicles for Baidu’s testing, and Volvo has joined with Uber for the Pittsburgh tests.
Then, of course, there’s Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) that has been touting its Autopilot autonomous driving software since last October, although a fatal crash in May may have cooled enthusiasm for the technology. Consumer Reports magazine took the company to task for marketing Autopilot as having more capability than the technology in fact has.
Baidu has launched a partnership with NVIDIA Corp. (NASDAQ: NVDA) to develop its self-driving cars and a voice-controlled device similar to Amazon’s Echo that drivers could use for non-driving tasks like ordering food or controlling the in-car entertainment system.
Given the amount of money and talent being thrown at autonomous driving, it’s only reasonable to assume that one or more of the players will build a product that consumers will flock to buy. But that day is still a ways off, and picking a winner at this time is likely a fool’s errand.