A Consortium of Chinese companies which are being spearheaded by China's search engine Baidu are leading the country's self-driving charge in the United States. Baidu is set to announce its first vehicle manufacturing partners for its self-driving software in the next few weeks.
However, whilst the announcement will be made in Beijing - it is the result of work that is happening 6,000 miles away in Silicon Valley, where Baidu alongside thirty other Chinese companies are currently engaged in developing and funding software and hardware to power internet-connected autonomous vehicles.
The strategic aim and objectives from Baidu and its partners, is to deploy those autonomous vehicles on the roads in China, which is the world's biggest automotive sector. The plan is that the same technology that has been embedded in exported Chinese vehicles can then make an impact in the US. Baidu, which has drawn similarities to Google, is playing a critical role in its effort to execute this vision. Like, Waymo, the self-driving arm of Google's parent company Alphabet - Baidu is utilizing what it has learnt from mapping and AI to design software systems that are necessary in order to make self-driving cars a reality.
The project was officially unveiled in April, and is named after NASA's moon-landing program Apollo. The name is indicative of the scale of the Chinese search engine's ambition, but it also represents the difficulty of the project. There are absolutely no guarantees that the Chinese colossus will be successful in what analysts have described as one of the most competitive parts of the technology sector. They've had some notable setbacks also, with Chief Scientist, Andrew Ng and self-driving Unit Manager, Jing Wang both departing the company to form their own startups.
The new head of Baidu's Silicon Valley self-driving hub Jingao Wang, stressed the importance of sourcing the talent to drive the project - although he conceded that there is intense competition in this regard. He said: "The competition for talent is keen. There is never enough."
One of the most distinctive advantages Baidu has over Google's Alphabet is that it now has a presence in both China and the US, whereas Alphabet has no footprint in China after Google shuttered its website there in 2010 rather than bow to the government's strict internet censorship laws. In 2011, Baidu became one of the first Chinese entities to set up a base in the US. Many analysts claimed that the primary objective from Baidu was to tap into the world's deepest tech talent pool. However, since then it has established itself as the central figure in a China Network, of almost three dozen firms through a series of investments, partnerships and acquisitions.
In those six years, the Chinese conglomerate has assembled a formidable 200-person technology team - which has been made up of personnel recruited from the leading universities in the US, as well as leading tech rivals such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
In Menlo Park, the center of US venture capital, China's largest automotive manufacturer Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp has a tech center that houses the state-owned company's investment arm. China supported electrical vehicle start-up, Lucid Motors also established a base at Menlo Park.
"It takes the whole industry to make self-driving become real, instead of one company," said Amy Gu, managing partner of Hemi Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that invests in autonomous vehicle startups. "It is not only about spending money, but about being able to come up with real products for which customers will pay."
It is not clear how quickly - if at all - Baidu will get to the point of producing such a product.