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How Baidu plans to profit from its free autonomous-car technology

January 26, 2018

The Chinese tech giant will sell off-the-shelf hardware to companies that are seeking straightforward ways to automate cars.

Background: Baidu has a platform for self-driving cars called Apollo, which allows developers to access training data and autonomy software for free.

What’s new: At a meeting in Beijing on Friday, Baidu said it will sell a range of hardware called Apollo Computing Units that will plug into cars to run its software. The most advanced ACU is capable of autonomous driving, though it still requires a safety driver.

Better than the rest? Other firms have tried plug-and-play autonomy before. But Baidu has over 80 auto industry partners, gobs of data, and fearsome AI abilities. That’s some edge.

Why it matters: Offering free software and charging for hardware is a savvy way for the firm to translate AI chops into profits. And it could help Baidu out-Waymo Waymo by quickly getting the tech into a large number of cars.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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