China's Baidu Sees Hotpot, Backseat Karaoke in Driverless Future

(Bloomberg) -- Baidu Inc.’s making a concerted effort to catch up in the driverless car race.

The search giant showcased its “Apollo” self-driving technology in Beijing Thursday, unveiling a partnership with Hongqi -- the “Red Flag” brand created to serve late Communist leader Mao Zedong -- to develop a near-full autonomous vehicle in 2019. It’s also inked a deal to install the software in Volvo Car AB’s self-driving robotaxis.

While Baidu’s considered a laggard globally, it’s at the forefront of a Chinese campaign to develop autonomous driving. At its annual Baidu World conference, the internet giant tried to sell audiences on its vision, screening videos of families playing games and travelers enjoying sleep-ins during road trips without humans at the wheel.

“The cars are not just for taking us from point A to point B but also a smart mobility service. So actually, we can eat hot pot and sing karaoke in the vehicles,” Zhenyu Li, general manager of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, said through a translator. “This will happen soon and you can try some of it in the Apollo minibus outside.”

Baidu’s showcase comes a day after revealing a revenue outlook that missed analyst expectations. Fierce competition coupled with a slowing Chinese economy have pressured its bread-and-butter ad sales. In response, the company has announced it’s opening its ecosystem to app developers, hoping to build a multi-faceted super app akin to Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat, on which a billion-plus users socialize, game and make payments.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: David Ramli in Beijing at dramli1@bloomberg.net

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With assistance from Editorial Board