The CEO took a self-driving car to a technology conference and livestreamed the experience to the audience. Li is being investigated because self-driving vehicles are not yet permitted on public roads.
Video footage from the livestream showed Baidu riding in the passenger seat of a modified Jeep Cherokee on the 5th Ring Road in Beijing. Another person was sitting in the driver's seat of the vehicle with his hands on the wheel.
China banned the testing of self-driving vehicles on public roads in 2016. Like the U.S., China is still trying to figure out how to handle the new technology, which may reduce the more than 3 million accident injuries on the road each year.
Reports of crashes, some fatal, involving self-driving vehicles have sparked concerns among authorities.
While the stunt may have gotten Li into legal trouble, the livestream footage highlighted Baidu's progress towards creating a fully autonomous vehicle by 2019. The company is aiming for mass production of its vehicle by 2021.
Along with the self-driving footage, Baidu announced its new self-driving technology platform, Apollo, built in partnership with major technology companies and automakers. Baidu's partners include Ford, TomTom, Nvidia, Daimler and Intel.
Two of the company's autonomous vehicles, equipped with the Apollo platform, were on display at the conference.
Li's stunt "will be investigated and dealt with according to the law," says Beijing's Traffic Management Bureau. It's still unclear as to what Li's punishment would be.
Chinese authorities say they support "innovative driverless technology," but say it "should be carried out in accordance with the law, security and science."
As The Guardian points out, the business culture in China has adopted a "do first, ask forgiveness later" motto. China also has a history of being slow to adopt the necessary laws for new technologies.
Still, China is aiming to move to the forefront of automotive technology, and Baidu has set high goals for its autonomous vehicles.
Qi Lu, Baidu's COO, says the company is confident that in "three to five years, China will be the world leader in autonomous driving."
Baidu has invested heavily in artificial intelligence in an attempt to get ahead in the Internet of Things industry. The company is aiming to "accelerate the adoption of autonomous driving."
Baidu isn't the first company to aggravate authorities with its self-driving vehicle tests. The city of San Francisco forced Uber to stop its testing of self-driving vehicles last year. After obtaining the proper permits, Uber was permitted to resume testing.
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