• Baidu Driverless Cars

Baidu Driverless Cars (Photo : Getty Images)

Chinese tech giant Baidu has announced on Tuesday, April 18, plans to launch its self-driving car in a restricted environment in July, in preparation for the gradual introduction of its full autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads by 2020, Reuters reported.

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Baidu named the project Apollo, after the lunar landing program.

The company opened the Apollo project to car manufacturers to enable them to see its platform--including vehicle platform, hardware platform, software platform and cloud data services--to help others in the industry, especially carmakers, to develop autonomous vehicles.

The company said that it has partnered with other companies that supplied the vehicles, sensors and other components for the self-driving technology.

According to Baidu, they plan to share technology for simple urban road conditions before the end of the year, with the ultimate goal of launching Baidu's self-driving cars by 2020.

In January, the company appointed former Microsoft executive Qi Lu to become its chief operating officer, as part of its thrust into artificial intelligence (AI).

But two months later, Andrew Ng, Baidu's chief scientist and head of its AI and augmented reality (AR) projects, announced his resignation from the company.

In October, Baidu launched a $200 million fund to support AI, AR and deep learning. A month earlier, it also set aside a $3 billion fund to help mid- and late-stage startups.

"AI has great potential to drive social development, and one of AI's biggest opportunities is intelligent vehicles," Qi said in a statement.

Baidu, which has partnered with German automaker BMW to research on self-driving cars, announced in November that they have ended their joint research due to contrasting opinion on how to conduct the research. The company has partnerships with Chinese companies such as BAIC Motor, BYD and Chery.

Last November, it offered test rides to participants of the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen. The company has also obtained a permit to test in California, where its AI research labs are located.

According to tech and automotive experts, the cars of the future will be fully capable of navigating the streets without drivers, which will revolutionize the transport industry.

Many carmakers and tech companies such as Alphabet's Google and Delphi are investing heavily in self-driving car technology.