AV Mapping Startup Carmera Joins Baidu’s Open-Source Apollo Platform

Just as Google is developing autonomous vehicles through its subsidiary Waymo, China’s largest online search engine, Baidu, is also racing to develop AVs. Last week, the company announced a new milestone: It has now tested self-driving cars on more than 1 million miles of roadway in 13 Chinese cities.

Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU) is playing catch-up with competitors such as Waymo and Uber (NYSE: UBER), both of which have test-driven their respective fleets of driverless vehicles over millions of miles, although some analysts say the competitive gap is narrowing. But the growing size and scope of Baidu’s AV operation—and collaborations with US automakers and tech companies—make it worth watching.

The company also maintains Baidu Apollo, an open-source software platform launched in 2017 that allows software developers, researchers, and the company’s 130 enterprise partners, including Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA), Ford (NYSE: F), Velodyne Lidar, and Toyota (NYSE: TM), to build their own AV systems. The Apollo technology stack has more than 12,000 GitHub developers, and earlier this month, Baidu released Apollo 5.0, the latest version. Other mobility players maintain open-source development platforms—Nvidia, for example—but they aren’t as comprehensive as Apollo.

One of Baidu Apollo’s newest partners is Carmera, a New York-based startup focused on high-definition mapping for autonomous vehicles, which is integral to the cars being able to “see” their surroundings. We caught up with CEO and co-founder Ro Gupta to find out more about Carmera’s collaboration with Baidu, which began last year after the two companies met up in Sunnyvale, CA, and integrated Carmera’s mapping tools with Baidu’s test AVs.

“Apollo is nurturing a burgeoning community of developers that have been working on AV tech for years, but historically those efforts have been siloed,” Gupta explains. “The Apollo format has gotten traction and has really taken off inside the developer community.”

Carmera execs were also impressed with Baidu’s combination of top-down and open-source approaches. “That’s important because this is hard stuff,” Gupta says. “It’s important for us to support initiatives like this because a lot of the initial technology development happens in these [open-source] environments.”

Gupta says that in the future, Carmera aims to be a resource for Apollo developers and partners by supporting the growth of Apollo’s HD mapping for large-scale production deployments as well as educational and research use. He declined to comment on whether any money was changing hands as part of Carmera’s partnership with Baidu, but maintained that his company’s primary goal is supporting the AV developer community and moving the needle on safe deployment of self-driving cars, whether for research purposes or commercial production.

“This announcement is mostly about supporting the developer community, but it’s also about Apollo’s breadth and insight into what [AV technologies] people are working on across the world,” Gupta says.

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