China's Google competitor says maps for self-driving cars could become core of its business

January 12, 2018

As the age of self-driving cars steadily approaches, the demand for high-definition maps will outpace even the need for search engines. That’s the line of thinking, anyway, from Baidu, China’s largest search company and the country’s chief rival to Google.

The company’s chief operating officer, Qi Lu, spoke on the issue at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Car manufacturers, of course, have already begun working on their own map-making solutions, with companies like BMW partnering with HERE and Mobileye to source its own HD map imagery. That’s because the maps autonomous cars need aren’t the same as the navigational tool you pull up on your phone: they’re high-definition 3D images that let the car know not only what route it needs, but also its physical relationship to things like buildings and curbs.

While they’re incredibly complex models, creating such maps is still largely involves driving around in vehicles with vast arrays of sensors and cameras. It’s a time-consuming process, and one that must be repeated fairly frequently, to keep up with evolutionary changes that result from construction.

Still, Baidu hopes to dominate the Chinese HD map scene in much the same way that Google has dominated regular maps elsewhere. The Chinese car market, with roughly 25 million new car sales last year, remains the largest on Earth, and those cars’ needs for HD maps is only going to increase.

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