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Baidu CEO Robin Li

Baidu CEO Wants China's Help on Robot Cars and a Local SpaceX

March 3, 2017
Baidu CEO Robin Li wants China to put new regulations and financial subsidies in place to quicken the development of autonomous cars and other transformative new technologies.

China needs to put new regulations and financial subsidies in place to quicken the development of autonomous cars or risk getting left behind, the billionaire co-founder of the nation’s largest search engine said.

Baidu Inc. Chief Executive Officer Robin Li, whose company is competing with Uber Technologies Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo to commercialize self-driving technology, wants Beijing to take the lead in getting Chinese enterprises to collaborate on research and craft a regulatory framework. His proposal was included among a raft of others he will put forth at an annual meeting of regulators this week, in a wish-list that includes a dream of seeing a Chinese private space-exploration leader -- a la Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Home to the world’s biggest auto market, China has set a goal for 10% to 20% of vehicles to be highly autonomous by 2025, and for 10% of cars to be fully self-driving in 2030. But Li, whose Baidu is also driving research into artificial intelligence, thinks Beijing needs to do more in the race to develop a transformative new technology.

Unsuitable Policies

“Major developing countries are employing a host of measures to support research into, and testing of, autonomous driving,” Li said in a document outlining his suggestions. “But the majority of our country’s laws and policies simply aren’t suitable for the development of self-driving cars.”

Baidu formed a self-driving car team in Silicon Valley in 2016 that would go on to employ more than 100 researchers and engineers, and is now headed by President Qi Lu. It’s partnered with chipmaker Nvidia Corp., tested its autonomous vehicles in eastern Chinese cities, and earned a permit from California for a trial in the state last year. The internet giant plans to have self-driving cars ply China’s roads by 2018, ahead of mass production by 2021.

As one of the country’s largest internet companies, it’s playing a key role in furthering Beijing’s ambition of becoming a global technology power. China is seeking to shed its image as a cheap manufacturer of products with little value-added content. The government is instead pushing to create more sophisticated products and services, keeping pace with a global trend toward digitization.

Laments China's Space Industry

Li also lamented the state of China’s space industry. As with self-driving cars, he wants Beijing to enact policies to encourage private investment in rocket and satellite production and launch technology.

“We need to slowly resolve the current complexity of obtaining approvals, the closed nature of the market, the lack of competitiveness and other issues,” he wrote. “We need to attract talent and encourage innovation, to lift our nation’s aerospace industry’s competitiveness on an international stage.”

By Bloomberg News

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