Baidu, Google’s rival search engine in China, has announced that the hundredth Apolong self-driving mini bus has just rolled off the production line, making it the first fully autonomous electric bus to reach volume production. The self-driving shuttle is expected to operate as a last mile transport solution in Chinese cities before launching globally in 2019.
“2018 marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving,” said Baidu’s Robin Li. “From the volume production of Apolong, we can truly see that autonomous driving is making great strides – taking the industry from zero to one.”
The Apolong Level 4 autonomous bus has been built by King Long and drives itself thanks to the Apollo open platform developed by Chinese language search engine provider Baidu. Now in version 3.0, the Apollo system has accumulated over 220,000 lines of code from over 10,000 developers since its launch last year, and involves 116 global partners from the automotive and technology spaces.
The shuttle has been in development since October 2017, and can carry up to 14 passengers. Its onboard sensor array includes laser radar, millimeter wave radar and HDR and stereo camera modules, it has a lightweight composite build with curved glass upper, and benefits from wide electric doors.
The Apolong autonomous mini bus – which is being manufactured in Xiamen, in the Fujian province of southeast China – will make its debut at the Baidu World conference in Beijing in November. It’s schedule to operate in several cities in China, including Beijing and Shenzhen, initially in geo-fenced locations such as parks, business parks and airports.
It will begin global rollout early next year, starting with Japan, thanks to a partnership with SB Drive, the autonomous vehicle wing of the SoftBank Group.
“In Japan, public transportation is facing a number of challenges, including traffic network reduction, driver shortage and driver aging,” said SB Drive’s Yuki Saji. “We expect self-driving technology will solve these problems in the near future. Launching Apolong is an important step to maintain public transportation in Japan.”