Baidu is making its self-driving car platform freely available to the automotive industry

Baidu is opening its self-driving vehicle platform in a bid to help drive the development of autonomous cars.

The Chinese internet giant today announced its Apollo project that will see its platform, including vehicle platform, hardware platform, software platform and cloud data services, opened to help others in the industry, particularly car manufacturers, to develop autonomous vehicles.

The initial target is to open the technologies up for vehicles in restricted environments this July. Baidu said it then plans to share technology for simple urban road conditions before the end of the year, with the ultimate goal of opening its full tech stack — covering fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads — by 2020.

“AI has great potential to drive social development, and one of AI’s biggest opportunities is intelligent vehicles,” Qi Lu, the former Microsoft exec who recently became Baidu group president and COO, said in a statement.

Beyond offering up its platform and technologies, which the company has invested significant sums into, Baidu said it is also looking to add partners to the program to strengthen it, particularly around compatible vehicles, sensors, and other components. Baidu has partnerships with Chinese companies such as BAIC MotorBYD and Chery, while a two-year relationship with BMW petered out last year over apparent differences in strategy.

This move to open source much of its self-driving tech seems like a move to gain a leg-up on more developed competitors such as Google and Tesla.

Baidu was one of the first major tech companies to embrace artificial intelligence and machine learning, and its autonomous vehicle push began with road testing in Beijing in 2015. Last November, it offered test rides to attendees of the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, and the Chinese company also has a permit to test in California, which is where its research labs — including its AI division — is based. Baidu recently lost the head of that project, renowned AI expert Andrew Ng, after he announced the end of his three-year stay at the company, but its AI group nevertheless employs around 1,300 people, with 300 of those in the Baidu Research division. That makes it one of the largest units of its kind in tech.