Chinese search giant Baidu plans to put driverless buses on the road next year, according to CEO Robin Li.

Baidu said it will start producing and testing the buses in July next year, in cooperation with Chinese bus maker King Long. The buses will run along a short designated road, but the company hasn't released any further details about their seating capacity or where the trials will take place.

The self-driving buses are supposed to “tap huge commercial value while tackling the country’s long-standing congestion problem”, says Lu Qi, Baidu’s COO.

A concept photo of the self-driving bus being co-developed by Baidu and King Long. Photo: Handout

Baidu is leading China’s self-driving market. But unlike Alphabet's Waymo in the US, Baidu doesn’t manufacture the cars. Instead, it aims to sell its software to car makers.

Baidu's open-source software platform, Apollo, launched in April this year, and now has about 70 partners including Microsoft and Nvidia. It has vowed to launch a driverless car by 2018, with mass production to begin by 2021.

Baidu earns most of its money from online advertising, but that’s being squeezed by social media, content platforms and online commerce. It has also retreated from its on-demand businesses, such as food delivery and group buying, instead reshaping itself into an AI player.