Chinese tech giant Baidu has begun mass-manufacturing its Apolong self-driving bus as it prepares to take over the world's roads.
Baidu is launching an autonomous bus service in major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shenzhen, Pingtan and Wuhan – but it isn't stopping there. The company is also partnering with phone operator SoftBank to bring a fleet of buses to Japan early next year.
Baidu announced its plans at its annual AI conference, Baidu Create 2018, where 6,000 attendees watched the 100th bus roll off the production line in Xiamen.
"2018 marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving," said CEO and chairman Robin Lee. "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 last mile
The Apolong seats 14 people, and is equipped with Baidu's Apollo self-driving system. Apollo is classified as level-four automation – also known as 'mind off' – which means that it can steer, brake, accelerate, use signals and change lanes without human intervention.
Level-four systems need a helping hand in tricky situations like merging onto highways, but that shouldn't be a problem for the Apolong, which is designed for short city jaunts.
It can travel 100km before stopping for a two-hour charge, and will serve as a 'last mile' service for locations like airports and tourist destinations.