Daimler, the owner of the Mercedes-Benz brand, and China’s Baidu are expanding their partnership with plans to cooperate more closely on automated driving and connectivity services in the German automaker’s vehicles.
The two companies have signed an agreement to collaborate in these two areas, specifically with Baidu’s Apollo program, an open-source autonomous driving platform. Both companies said they will also work to explore new fields in vehicle connectivity services.
What this deeper relationship will produce isn’t entirely clear, although there is at least one component of the announcement that provides a bit more detail. Baidu’s connectivity services will be integrated into Mercedes-Benz’s new infotainment system known as MBUX, Daimler said.
Daimler’s relationship with Baidu has strengthened as it has expanded its presence in China. Daimler was one of the first partners to join Apollo, which Baidu launched in April 2017. Daimler is also a member of the Apollo Committee, a group that wants to accelerate research on safer solutions in automated driving in China and promotes the drafting of related laws and regulations.
Daimler was granted in July a license to test self-driving vehicles on public roads in Beijing, making it the first international automaker to receive such permission. The automaker was given the test permit by the Chinese government after extensive closed-course testing. Daimler said, at the time, that is marked an important milestone in its research and development efforts in China.
Baidu’s open source Apollo program reflects the Chinese search engine’s strategy to gaining a piece of the autonomous vehicle industry pie. Baidu isn’t interested in making the actual car — just the software that drives it.
Baidu has focused its effort on delivering services, like data and high-skilled computing. And it’s betting that its tech will help it become China’s leading developer of self-driving vehicles.
The goal, of course, is to persuade as many companies as possible to use its Apollo platform. Some 116 partners are now on the Apollo platform, including new partners Jaguar Land Rover, Valeo, Byton, Leopard Imaging and Suning Logistics. Daimler was one of the first.
Baidu unveiled an upgrade to the Apollo platform at its developer conference in July. Apollo 3.0, as it’s being called, aims to better support autonomous driving in geo-fenced areas. It also includes new solutions to support valet parking, autonomous mini buses and autonomous microcars.
A previous update, announced in January at CES 2018, included support for new computing platforms, new reference vehicles and more HD mapping services.