2017-07-07 16:54:45 Haley Liu
The CEO of China’s largest search engine provider, Baidu was under investigation after he live-streamed himself travelling in a driverless car on Beijing's fifth Ring Road on Wednesday. The news soon went viral on social media, as the hashtag #LiYanhongIwasonthefifthringroad was viewed 402,000 times. Beijing Youth Daily received more than 8,000 comments for publishing the news on Weibo.
Someone's on the driver's seat, but not touching the wheel.
Baidu released its first version of Apollo - a driverless car operation system, gathering a crowd of thousands for the inaugural conference held in China National Convention Center. The conference showed the CEO, Robin Li's live-streamed video in which he was seated in a car with no hands on the wheel. In the 44-second video, Li commented on his travel. "The car moves smoothly despite heavy traffic," Li said, "The car is on autopilot. I feel pretty good."
Li later acknowledged that he wasn't alone. His colleague was sitting on the driver's seat but not touching the wheel.
Li may be glad to know his video went viral online in no time, but became worried when he heard Beijing traffic authorities became involved. As the news circulated on the Internet, the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau released news that they would investigate whether this exciting test drive broke any laws.
Beijing's fifth Ring Road is a full expressway ring road, further from Central Beijing. It is a sure path for commuters in suburban areas to enter the center of the city, thus highly congested during rush hours. Since its northern part is close to Olympic venues, the Ring Road has been nicknamed the "Olympic Avenue".
"The police support the technology and innovation of driverless cars, but it should be conducted legally, safely and scientifically," the authority said in its statement, "Any violation of the rules will be punished."
However, many netizens doubted whether the test drive could be labeled as "illegal", as there is no related rule to comply with. "We've seen lots of scientific and technological breakthroughs, while Chinese laws and regulations are always lagging behind," a netizen said. But others argued that test drive should be conducted in closed-off areas instead of the busy Ring Road.
It's a bold choice to have a test drive on the fifth Ring Road.
Shouldn't we support technological progress?
Maybe years later only the human drivers will be busted, because driverless cars will be mainstream.
As China seeks to shift to an economy driven by high-tech and consumer sector rather than heavy industry and low-end manufacturing, the country is quickly catching up with the development of self-driving cars.
The Chinese government is pushing for the acceleration of artificial intelligence (AI) development. For the first time in Chinese history, AI has been written into a government report released during this year's Two Sessions (the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress). Baidu is taking a lead in China and beyond.