A driverless car from the state-owned Changan Automobile on a test drive in Beijing

Baidu the 'Chinese Google' to launch driverless cars

China's Baidu, the search engine company often dubbed the ‘Chinese Google’, has announced that it, too, will start producing driverless cars.

Baidu’s chief executive, Robin Li, said the company was looking into the technology as it announced its reported revenue for the three months ending in March.

"We believe that the automobile is the next major computing platform," Li said. "We're on track now to deploy autonomous vehicles powered by Baidu technology in 2018 with production at scale by 2020."

The company’s revenues were reportedly up by 31.2 per cent from the same period a year earlier to reach $2.45bn (£1.68bn) according to a statement released Thursday. The increase was largely attributed to increasing revenue from advertisement sales.

"We had a terrific start to 2016," Li said. "This quarter we made notable progress in executing our mission in connecting users with information and services."

China is ramping up its efforts around autonomous vehicles in order to compete with considerable research currently being carried out in America and Europe.

A draft roadmap for having highway-ready, self-driving cars within three to five years and autonomous vehicles for urban driving by 2025 could be unveiled as early as this year, said Li Keqiang, an automotive engineering professor at Tsinghua University who chairs the committee drafting the plan. The panel is backed by the government body Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The draft will set out technical standards, including a common language for cars to communicate with each other and infrastructure, and regulatory guidelines, a unified framework that contrasts with a patchwork of state laws and standards in the United States.

The inconsistent approach to regulating the technology in the US could hold back the development of self-driving cars there.

In December, California began cautiously legislating for the autonomous technology, but insisted that the vehicles were installed with steering wheels to protect against failures of the automatic system. Google said it was "gravely disappointed" by the draft proposals.

The Chinese state-owned Changan Automobile is also developing a driverless programme.

"If we can convince the government that every company, every car on the road must use this (single standard) ... then there is a chance China can beat the rest of the world,” said Li Yusheng, head of Chongqing Changan Automobile's autonomous drive program.

The China draft would be opened up for industry comment and input from a range of ministries, ultimately going to the State Council for approval.

At the most basic level, the committee will define a "self-driving" car and set the minimum level of functionality.

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