Photo/IllutrationThe Apolong self-driving bus, developed by Baidu Inc. and Xiamen King Long United Automotive Industry Co., is shown at a trade show in Shanghai in June. (Naoyuki Fukuda)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Chinese tech giant Baidu Inc., in collaboration with a Softbank Corp. subsidiary, will start testing at least 10 of its self-driving buses in Japan this year.

Baidu, operator of China’s leading search engine, on July 4 started volume production of the Apolong, a bus equipped with its artificial intelligence-based Apollo automated driving system.

“We will thoroughly change the auto industry and transform our future lifestyles,” Robin Li, chairman of Baidu, said at an event in Beijing.

The Apolong, which has no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal, was jointly developed with Chinese bus manufacturer Xiamen King Long United Automotive Industry Co. The vehicle is classified as Level 4, the second most advanced level of driving automation on a scale of 6, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Softbank’s SB Drive Corp., which has been conducting experiments with self-driving buses, including those manufactured by French startup Navya, will add the Apolong to its lineup to speed up commercial services across Japan.

SB Drive’s automated bus system is in practical use at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to transport workers within the facility.

The company is planning self-driving bus services for maintenance workers and tourists at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

(This article was written by Naoyuki Fukuda in Beijing and Satoshi Kimura.)