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Chinese tech and internet giant Baidu has begun volume production of the country's first commercially employed self-driving bus. The company said it would soon be rolled out in tourist spots and airports.
Baidu Chief Executive Robin Lee watched the 100th Apolong autonomous vehicle roll off a production line in the southeastern city of Xiamen on Wednesday.
"2018 marks the first year of commercialization for autonomous driving in China," he said. "From the mass production of Apolong, we can truly see that autonomous driving is making great strides, taking the industry from zero to one," Li added.
The 14-seater Apolong, about one-third of the size of a normal bus, has no steering wheel, driver's seat, accelerator or brake.
Powered by Apollo 3.0, the latest version of Baidu's open autonomous driving platform, the minibus is co-produced by Baidu itself and Chinese manufacturer King Long.
Serving tourists and air passengers
Apolong will soon be pressed into commercial use in enclosed areas such as tourist spots and airports in several cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Xiongan.
Early next year, Apolong buses are set to enter Japan's self-driving market as shuttle buses at nuclear power stations and in Tokyo to ferry around elderly people in local communities.
Baidu operates China's leading search engine, but also invests heavily in services ranging from online payment to connected devices and artificial intelligence (AI) used in autonomous cars and beyond.
"In the past, China exported cheap commodities to the world," Robin Li said. "In the future, Chine will export AI technology."
hg/uhe (AFP, Xinhua)