If you asked anyone relatively in the know about which company was pushing driverless cars forward the most, it wouldn't be some long standing automaker, but the search giant Google. This might seem bizarre now, but apparently it's not that far fetched a transition, since Chinese search giant Baidu is also looking to get into the automated vehicle business and it's just upped the ante too, by partnering with long time quality vehicle manufacturer BMW.
“BMW is embarking on a further research project which will pave the way for highly automated driving in China as well,” a BMW spokesperson said in a statement. “China's fast-expanding urban centers present the engineers with challenges such as multi-level highways.”
Indeed with one of the world's largest populations and some of the world's densest cities, China is coming up against some real problems with too many cars on the road causing miles upon miles of jams. In fact, in 2010 the China National Highway 110 traffic jam became one of the worst in history, where there were cars backed up for over 60 miles. Some people ended up being stuck in their cars for over five days, prompting many in the commercial sector and government to look for solutions.
While automated vehicles wouldn't fix such a problem over night, with vehicles that don't need a driver, there becomes less of a need to own a car, since fleets of perfectly orderly and safe vehicles could be used to ferry many more people to work than the ones being used by people at the moment.
BMW plans to launch early prototype vehicles in Beijing and Shanghai and will make use of Baidu's local mapping technology – similar to Google Maps – to help develop its traffic avoidance and road tracking technology. As Reuters explains, a partnership with local telecoms companies is also likely, so that detailed maps of the country can be served wirelessly to avoid needing masses of local storage space.
KitGuru Says: Just as it's great to see county's like India launching and successfully orbiting their own spacecraft around distant worlds, it's good to see other countries helping push forward important technology like automation. Competition is almost always good for the consumer.