Baidu is giving people another reason to call it the Google of China; it's investing deeply in a Silicon Valley self-driving car team.

Baidu said last December that it had 657 million monthly active users conducting mobile searches, effectively solidifying its status as a Chinese search giant, but it's also so much more. Baidu offers close to 60 additional services, such as Baidu Encyclopedia (an index sort of like Wikipedia), Baidu Space (a social network), Baidu Games, Baidu Youa (an eCommerce platform), Baidu Yi (a mobile operating system), etc.

Soon it'll be able to add a self-driving cars to its portfolio. The company announced it is forming a team in Silicon Valley specifically for autonomous car efforts. The team, which will be part of Baidu's Autonomous Driving Unit, will grow to include more than 100 researchers and engineers by late 2016. However, this isn't the first time Baidu has invested in driverless technology.

Baidu and BMW have been working on a joint project to produce a self-driving car for the Chinese market. According to the BMWblog, both companies completed the first successful tests of their driverless car in December 2015 - using a retooled BMW 3 Series. BMW entered into a partnership with Baidu in 2014 and has been testing their car tech in Beijing and Shanghai.

READ: 14 automakers betting on driverless vehicles

While BMW is handling the automotive side of things in the retooled 3 Series, Baidu is providing the AutoBrain software, which adds artificial intelligence, image comprehension, voice recognition, automated driving maps, positioning, detection, and more. Baidu's Silicon Valley team, which will be called ADU-US, is presumably leveraging some of that AutoBrain software.

But Baidu has only said its new team will work on areas "integral to self-driving car development, including planning, perception, control and systems. ADU-US will work alongside Baidu's existing Silicon Valley-based teams, including Baidu Research." It also plans to make incremental progress, starting with small "autonomy-enabled" regions and designing "clearly recognisable" cars.

It's been said that Baidu is looking to produce a car by 2018.

Sections Google Cars