Whether it ultimately proves to be a complement or alternative to "closed" efforts, he wants Apollo to become as prevalent for autonomous vehicles as Google's Android operating system is for mobile phones.
So far, more than 70 automakers, tech firms and global parts makers, including Ford, Daimler, Bosch, Nvidia and LiDAR maker Velodyne, have joined Apollo. Zhang’s team leads the effort and vehicles that can drive themselves on the highway using Apollo-derived technology will be sold to Chinese carbuyers in 2019. So-called Level 4 autonomous cars, which can drive themselves in geo-fenced urban areas and on highways, follow in 2021.
Zhang, a long-time Microsoft executive, shared his vision with Forbes at Beijing-based Baidu’s Silicon Valley tech center in Sunnyvale, California, ahead of a meetup with partners and developers.
Forbes: When will the results of Apollo technology appear on the road?
Zhang: “We made a joint announcement with Beijing Automotive. They are going to put Level 3 cars on the road by 2019.…They have already started testing with us. This is actual commercial passenger cars that they sell to consumers. 2019 is for Level 3 and then 2021 is Level 4, which is fully autonomous … geo-fenced, for urban and highway” driving.
Forbes: In July you had 50 partners. What’s the tally at this point?
Zhang: “Total partners there are 70 currently. Tier 1s, carmakers, chipmakers, ride-hailing companies, all sorts ... even governments.”
“We don't want to compete with chipmakers, we don't want to compete with carmakers or ride-hailing companies. We want to be as neutral as possible.”
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