A Chinese firm is currently under investigation following reports its CEO tested a driverless vehicle on public roads. Baidu, which is China's equivalent to Google, is its biggest search engine provider in the country and the organization announced earlier this week that it intends to invest in self-driving technology.
Baidu publically announced a broad alliance for self-driving cars this week, which signaled its intent to become an industry leader in relation to the development of autonomous vehicles in China and other markets. It announced that it plans to deploy its self-driving vehicles on Chinese roads by 2019.
However, reports emerging from Beijing suggest that Baidu, CEO Robin Li, is now under investigation to determine whether his firm broke any laws when he conducted a driving experiment with a self-driving car on a public road.
Baidu may well face sanctions from local authorities after police officially confirmed via its official microblog that it had now launched a full investigation into the incident. It aims to establish whether there was any irregularity in using a driverless car on public roads. Beijing traffic police released an official statement in relation to the incident, and declared its support for technology and innovation, but warned that it must adhere to the law.
The statement said: "The police support technology and innovation of autonomous driving, but it should be conducted legally, safely and scientifically. Any violations of the law will lead to punishment."
Baidu have thus far declined to comment on the alleged incident and subsequent investigation when contacted by media organizations. China has slowly warmed up to self-driving technology, and is playing catching up in the race to deploy the revolutionary technology which will transform the automotive industry.
However, it has been boosted by supportive regulation and Beijing's desire to move to an economy driven by high-tech and consumer sectors as opposed to heavy industry and low-end manufacturing for which it is famed. Baidu announced its alliance for self-driving cars last week, and CEO Robin Li, conducted a video chat with participants of the organization's AI conference whilst sitting in the passenger seat of a self-driving car on Beijing roads.
The broadcast sparked a lot of discussion online, with some questioning whether the search engine colossus had permission to conduct the test, while others said the car appeared to violate traffic rules. Others online hailed the test. "This ticket, if issued by police, will definitely be historic," wrote one.