BEIJING: China’s firms are investing in driverless vehicles, with e-commerce giant the latest to reveal its involvement, just days after search giant Baidu announced it was ploughing $1.5bn into this area. has partnered with two local automakers, SAIC Maxus and Dongfeng Motor, to develop light electric vans that can operate without a driver between the online marketplace’s distribution centres and future delivery stations in urban areas, the South China Morning Post reported.

Successful tests on automatic route planning, automatic overtaking, and self-parking functions have already been conducted, the company said.

“Our extensive in-house logistics network provides the ideal real-world scenario in which to test autonomous vans,” explained Wang Zhenhui, CEO of JD Logistics, adding that the business would continue to “push the bounds of traditional logistics solutions”.

Baidu’s angle is less about enhanced logistics than about becoming a leader in artificial intelligence, which it is already using in its search and mobile app products and which it believes is set to reshape the auto sector.

The government is likely to facilitate that trend as it is reported to be working on new regulations that will permit manufacturers of driverless cars to carry out tests on public roads.

Baidu’s just-launched Apollo Fund will invest $1.5bn over the next three years into more than 100 autonomous driving projects. This followed its creation in July of a global open autonomous driving alliance as part of a push to develop a driverless car by 2018 with a view to mass production by 2021.

At that time, Lu Qi, Baidu COO, said the business was well placed to “facilitate China to become the worldwide leader in autonomous driving in the coming three to five years”.

“I see a lot of potential to use AI to grow our new businesses, such as autonomous driving and DuerOS (an AI-powered operating system), into core businesses,” he added.

Sourced from South China Morning Post, Caixin; additional content by WARC staff