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Baidu to use BlackBerry's OS for autonomous driving platform

Branding for Baidu's Apollo autonomous car platform is displayed on a vehicle at the Baidu World Technology Conference in Beijing in 2017. Photo: Bloomberg

Chinese technology giant Baidu has chosen has-been mobile phone manufacturer BlackBerry as an operating system provider for its Apollo autonomous driving platform.

Last week, Baidu and BlackBerry signed a deal which allows BlackBerry's QNX to serve as the operating system of the Chinese firm's open-source Apollo self-driving platform, which was launched in April 2017 with a mission to provide third-party members with obstacle perception technology, cloud simulation services, high-definition maps and other related technologies that enable cars to autonomously run in designated lanes.

Originally developed by QNX Software Systems, QNX has been used as an operating system in BlackBerry's mobile devices as well as control systems for medical and safety applications. BlackBerry has recently developed QNX to power computer chips for automobiles that manage multiple safety-critical systems.

According to the cooperation deal, Baidu will include BlackBerry's QNX-enabled on-board entertainment software into the Apollo self-driving platform. In 2014, American carmaker Ford Motor started using QNX in its entertainment systems, which was followed by US technology titan Apple, which connected QNX with its CarPlay integration standard.

The two companies will also integrate Baidu's CarLife, a software system connecting smartphones with Internet-connected cars, conversational artificial intelligence system DuerOS and high-definition maps with the QNX platform, said the deal.

Depending on the QNX technology, BlackBerry has long been a bellwether in the fields of in-car entertainment software and mapping systems, and it now expects the QNX operating system to help tap the promising driverless car market, which is believed to generate billions of dollars every year.

"By integrating BlackBerry's QNX with Apollo, we will enable carmakers to directly skip to the phase of mass production of autonomous cars from building the prototypes. We will work together to build a technological and commercial ecosystem for automated driving, Internet-connected cars and the intelligent transport system," said Li Zhenyu, general manager of Baidu's intelligent driving division.

As the operator of the number one search engine in China, Baidu is zooming in on the development of artificial intelligence and autonomous driving technologies, with its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robin Li claiming in November last year that the company would start the mass production of driverless cars in 2018.

On Tuesday at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Baidu announced the second version of the Apollo autonomous driving platform, which features better mapping services, new cheaper sensor package requirements, new reference vehicles and support for Intel, NXP, Nvidia and Renesas. The Apollo 2.0 is able to let cars run autonomously on some simple city roads.

Currently, the Apollo autonomous driving platform boasts more than 70 members ranging from traditional automakers and technology firms to parts suppliers and research institutions.

What's more, Baidu's ambition in automated driving would get a boost from the Chinese government, which is providing more incentives for corporate efforts to develop self-driving technologies.

Last weekend, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport announced that the city's first road for tests of autonomous cars would be built in the Yizhuang economic development area. The announcement came a week after the Commission rolled out a provisional regulation, which allows companies registered in China to test their autonomous cars on designated roads on the condition that they obtain official permission to do so and have drivers experienced in operating the automated driving system to monitor the tests and take over the cars in case of emergencies.

Experts said that Beijing's policies would attract more technology firms to the city for the research and development of autonomous driving technologies and would prompt other Chinese cities to relax restrictions on road tests of autonomous cars.

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