Baidu CEO Robin Li Said Both Baidu and Tesla Are Adopting A Step-By-Step Engineering Approach to Autonomous Driving

On Saturday, Baidu CEO Robin Li delivered a speech at the Emerging Engineering International Forum 2021, hosted by his alma mater Peking University, where he spoke about the engineering mindset that drives Baidu’s business and the company’s commitment to cultivating five million AI talent in the next five years, contributing to China’s growth as a technology powerhouse.

In his speech, Li said that “in daily work, it is very important to shift our mindset from a scientific one to an engineering one – going from a one-step process to a step-by-step process.” Li said this realization came to him in the early days of Baidu, when he was building the search engine with his team. While a scientific approach can produce fruitful and thorough results, an engineering approach is incremental, strategic and ultimately more useful. It’s the difference between providing every possible result in an internet search and just providing the most relevant 1,000 results that are more likely to satisfy the user.

When it comes to autonomous driving, Li shared his thoughts on how competitors Waymo and Tesla approach it compared to Baidu. According to Li, Waymo’s approach is a scientific one – aiming to achieve L5 and then proceeding to expand, scale and commercialize the technology. Tesla, on the other hand, has taken an engineering approach – gradually making technological advances in self-driving technology that have transformed the automotive industry. However, while Tesla has focused on gradually advancing the levels of autonomous driving, Li argues this is not the only incremental approach possible. Baidu has instead prioritized expanding the driving range of self-driving vehicles.

At present, it is impossible to drop an autonomous car on the road and immediately drive all five million kilometers of road in China. There are many factors that need to be tested and considered before it is possible to achieve the level of safety and efficacy that is expected – and necessary – for autonomous vehicles.

By practicing the operation of self-driving cars in smaller areas where the conditions are more conducive to testing, Baidu argues that they are able to gradually learn and improve to expand the geographical scope of autonomous driving while, at the same time, gradually upgrading the abilities of autonomous cars. With this line of thinking, Baidu has launched the autonomous driving travel service platform “Apollo Go”, which has been operating in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Cangzhou, Changsha and other places, serving more than 400,000 passengers.

Baidu’s dedication to developing cutting-edge technology is not new – they have been investing in autonomous driving since 2013. The company also reported that 21.4% of Baidu’s core revenue in 2020 was invested in R&D, maintaining a rate of more than 15% R&D investment for many consecutive years.

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Part of this dedication also includes cultivating talent that will be able to take on the technological challenges of the future. Since 2015, Baidu has supported the Ministry of Education’s Industry-University Cooperation and Collaborative Education Project, training more than 3,000 teachers across more than 700 universities.

Li firmly believes that in today’s world, it is expected that job applicants have an understanding of artificial intelligence to find a job in the technology industry. As such, he has committed the company to developing five million AI talents over the course of five years to help job seekers grow their skills toolbox, creating more well-rounded talent. In doing so, Li hopes to contribute to President Xi’s vision of cultivating first-class scientific and technology leaders in China.