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Tencent begins test of driverless car in race with Baidu, Alibaba

China's technology giant Tencent is testing its self-developed autonomous driving system, pitting against rivals Baidu and Alibaba, which have invested billions of dollars in developing unmanned vehicles.

Tencent has a prototype and begun testing it, but how far the development effort has advanced remained unclear, Bloomberg reported recently, citing people familiar with the matter.

The Shenzhen-based firm wants to take advantage of its mapping and artificial intelligence technologies to win a place in the money-making industry, which is also eyed by powerful foreign counterparts such as Tesla and Alphabet's Waymo, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is private, according to a Bloomberg report.

The Bloomberg report came just less than two months after Tencent and domestic carmaker Guangzhou Automobile Group signed a strategic cooperation agreement, which allows the duo to jointly develop Internet-connected smart cars and artificial intelligence-based driver assistance technology as well as invest in the areas of automobile-related e-commerce, new energy cars and automobile insurance.

It has become a trend for technology companies and traditional car manufacturers to join hands on self-driving technology, because they can use their respective advantages in the development process. Technology firms prevails over traditional carmakers in artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning, which are necessary for the development of driverless cars, while traditional carmakers are good at hardware production.

As for Tencent, it is well recognized as an expert specializing in mapping, Internet connectivity and image recognition. Tencent Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Pony Ma has said that the company is committed to developing artificial intelligence-based technology for driverless cars in the future. In addition, Tencent bought a 5 percent stake in US electric car manufacturer Tesla for $1.78 billion in March, which has been working on autonomous driving technology.

By contrast, Baidu, China's biggest search engine provider, takes a step ahead. In July, Baidu Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robin Li tested a driverless car on public roads in Beijing, catching the eyes of both Internet users and the police, which later launched an investigation into whether there was any irregularity in driving a driverless car on public roads.

Technologically, Baidu has established a platform called Apollo, which is intended to provide its ecosystem partners with an open, comprehensive  and safe software platform to integrate vehicles with hardware systems to build a complete self-driving system. So far, the Apollo platform has enlisted a great number of third-party members including technology firms, traditional carmakers, automobile parts suppliers and research institutions. The search engine operator has also launched the Apollo Fund, which invests in laser radar, artificial intelligence chip and software algorithm.

The Apollo project is an important part of Baidu's artificial intelligence strategy as the company wants to make artificial intelligence and self-driving research as its core competitiveness. Baidu plans to get driverless cars on roads by 2018.

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