China’s self-driving industry has just welcomed another major player: Alibaba Group is developing Level 4 autonomous driving technology and is ready to test its self-driving cars on public roads, Chinese media reported today.
The e-commerce giant has assigned its Chief Scientist and former Nanyang Technological University in Singapore Associate Professor Gang Wang to lead the project. Alibaba is looking to add more than 50 self-driving experts and specialists to the project to maximize its R&D capability, according to an Alibaba insider.
Alibaba is also ready to conduct its first road test with a converted Lincoln MKZ, a model widely used by self-driving companies such as Baidu, NVIDIA, and many startups. The vehicle will test L4 autonomous driving capabilities, a level defined as “fully autonomous” in that the car can be operated without a human driver in most circumstances.
Alibaba’s engagement in self-driving technology began last year when it formed a partnership with Chinese domestic automakers SAIC Motor and Dongfeng Peugeot-Citroën, and equipped the cars with its upgraded operating system AliOS.
Alibaba’s ambitious move represents a direct challenge against China’s other internet giants Baidu and Tencent, which have been making substantial progress in the field of self-driving cars for several years. Baidu leads the race with its autonomous driving platform Apollo, which the company bills as “the Android of the auto industry.” Just three weeks ago, Baidu received approval from the Beijing Municipal Government for testing its self-driving cars on Beijing roads. Tencent, meanwhile, reportedly tested one of its autonomous vehicles on Beijing highways earlier this month.
While Uber and Tesla accidents and scandals in the US may have weakened public confidence in self-driving vehicles, Alibaba’s move into the field is another sign that China remains dedicated to encouraging development and implementation of the technology.
Author: Jessie Geng | Editor: Tony Peng, Michael Sarazen