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BMW and Chinese tech giant Baidu are launching a self-driving car this year

BMW and Chinese tech giant Baidu are launching a self-driving car this year

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As Google edges closer to the dream of self-driving cars, Chinese search giant Baidu is trying to beat it to the finish line. The Chinese company — which has been working on self-driving vehicles for the past few years — first announced it had entered a partnership with BMW in 2014. It seems that collaboration has already paid off: this week, Baidu senior vice president Wang Jin said that his company would launch of a new self-driving car with the German car manufacturer before the end of the year.

Baidu is focused more on helping drivers than replacing them

Speaking at the China Cloud Computing Services Summit, Jin said that the prototype vehicle would be used to test Baidu's autonomous technology, but will still have a human driver present. For now at least, Baidu's aims are a littler smaller in scope than Google's — where the Californian company wants to remove the human driver completely, Kai Yu, Baidu's head of deep learning, said last year that the Chinese firm was focusing on assisting drivers rather than replacing them. But still, The Guardian notes that Baidu has research efforts that rival Google, conducting extensive studies into artificial intelligence, the technology needed for computer "vision," and the robotics required to make an autonomous vehicle. Last year it also invested $10 million into Finnish mapping company IndoorAtlas, adding its expertise to an existing data-mapping service.

While the technology to enable self-driving vehicles is forging ahead, at least in the West, legislation to support their arrival on our streets is lagging behind. It's here that China may be able to be more flexible in the approval of new laws, allowing its tech giants to start producing autonomous models while US and European governments try to work out who is to blame if one robot car crashes into another. Baidu has yet to provide many details on what its first model will look like, but if Wang Jin's proclamation is accurate, Google will have some self-driving competition before 2015 ends.