Baidu CEO Robin Li: Driverless vehicles could be mass produced within a decade
By Guo Meiping, Gao Yun
Members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) involved in the field of science and technology have highlighted the country's development in autonomous driving, artificial intelligence (AI) chips, and high-speed railway on the sidelines of the Two Sessions.
‘Development of autonomous driving is a gradual process’
Last July, a video of Baidu’s CEO Robin Li testing a self-driving car on Beijing’s busy 5th Ring Road drew public attention. Although the test ended with him receiving a ticket from traffic police, the event provided a glance at our future relationship with cars.
"I think it may take place earlier," said Robin Li, in response to the Minister of Industry and Information Technology Miao Wei saying it will take eight to 10 years before driverless vehicles are mass produced.
"But it’s a gradual process," Li added.
The CPPCC member mentioned Baidu’s plan to develop driverless technology at the "Delegates' Corridor," the news section where CPPCC members answer questions from the press.
This year, the company will mass produce on a small scale its open autonomous driving platform Apollo in partnership with domestic manufacturer King Long. These cars, which have no driver’s seat and steering wheel, will be deployed to specific roads in various tourist spots.
A car deployed with Apollo capabilities on display at the Baidu Developer Conference in Beijing in July, 2017 /Photo via

A car deployed with Apollo capabilities on display at the Baidu Developer Conference in Beijing in July, 2017 /Photo via

The company is also aiming to cooperate with major manufacturers to produce family cars next year.
"Starting next year, there will be some high-level autonomous driving functions. That means it cannot rely solely on driverless technology without humans involved," said Li.
“But for common roads such as from Beijing to Shanghai, as long as you enter the highway, you don’t have to drive anymore. When you arrive in Shanghai, the vehicle will tell you now it’s time to take charge after getting off the highway."
Regarding AI development, Li sees the technology as important as the industrial revolution.
"Smart speakers have already become part of our lives, you can talk to them, ask about the temperature, today’s share prices …these are things we couldn’t even imagine in the past, and we are expecting to see more in the future."
According to the founder of Baidu, AI is one of the most important driving forces of China’s economic growth in the next 20 to 50 years.
Chips underpin high-tech development
At the "Delegates' Corridor," Deng Zhonghan, founder of fabless chip company Vimicro and chief executive of the National Starlight Integrated-Circuit Project, said that the success of high-tech products like iPhone and Google’s AI program "AlphaGo" is underpinned by chips.
“Every year, China's largest import is not oil, gas or grains, but rather chips," Deng said, adding that the total volume of chip imports is equivalent to about one trillion yuan (160 billion US dollars) per year.
Deng and his team have developed the "Starlight Chinese Chip," making China a player in the chip market. The second generation of the chip, which will be launched this year, has lower energy consumption and faster calculation speed, according to Deng.
He acknowledged the gap between China and Western countries in terms of chip development.
The team is working with the Ministry of Public Security and has developed the national standard of the technical specifications for Surveillance Video and Audio Coding for public security, making China the first country in the world to enact such a standard.
Innovation behind rapid development of high-speed rail
The mileage of China’s high-speed railways has reached 25,000 km compared to 9,000 km five years ago. The main reason behind it was innovation, said Lu Chunfang, chief commander of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway construction and an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
"Management innovation and technological innovation are the main reasons for the rapid development," said Lu. 
The management innovation has provided strong support for the construction work. For example, the China Railway Corp has set up a new mode of standardized management, developed dynamic vehicle examination methods and established an integrated quality control system.
In terms of technological innovation, China has put into operation 225 units of the Fuxing bullet trains, the latest generation of high-speed trains that are fully developed using domestic technology.
"China will maintain a high-level development for its railway construction," said Lu, adding that the high-speed rail tracks will hit 38,000 km by 2025, providing access to high-speed bullet trains to more people.
The country will also make further efforts to build more secure, smarter, faster and greener high-speed railways and bullet trains. High-speed magnetic levitation trains and vacuum-tube super trains can also be expected.
"China’s high-speed rail will be faster, more secure, more comfortable and more convenient in the future," said Lu.