Baidu, one of the world's largest internet and artificial intelligence (AI) technology companies, has announced plans to deliver Level 4 self-driving cars by 2021 and Level 3 vehicles by 2019. Chinese automaker BAIC group will manufacture the vehicles, while Baidu provides the software to enable their self-driving capabilities, which will be developed through their Apollo autonomous driving program.
Right now, Tesla's Autopilot system is considered a Level 2 since it still requires that a driver monitor the car's behavior, and experts have expressed doubts on the company's ability to deliver higher-level autonomy within Elon Musk's proposed timeframe.
China is a large market for Tesla's electric vehicles, so if Baidu and BAIC Group's partnership is able to produce Level 3 or Level 4 self-driving cars before Tesla can, Musk's company could be facing some stiff competition in one of their strongest markets. Of course, this competition could also provide Tesla with the motivation needed to deliver on their lofty promises.
Although more and more automakers, tech companies, and even government officials across the globe are taking notice of self-driving cars, they still have numerous hurdles to overcome, both in terms of technology and in convincing the public to hand over control of their cars to artificially intelligent tech. Still, whether they hit the roads in two years or 10, self-driving vehicles are looking more and more like the future of transportation.