SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - China-based internet company Baidu has received a permit to test its self-driving cars in California from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles, as the race to introduce driverless automobiles accelerates.
Baidu, which unveiled its autonomous vehicle in China last December and has been steadily increasing its investments and partnerships in the sector, has already tested on Chinese roads and highways.
California is seen as a crucial testing ground for autonomous vehicles due to technological innovations being developed in Silicon Valley, where many car companies and start-ups operate research labs to develop self-driving technology.
Baidu said it would begin testing in California "very soon."
"Being able to do road tests will greatly accelerate our progress," Jing Wang, general manager of Baidu's autonomous driving unit, said in a statement.
In April, Baidu opened an office in Silicon Valley and said it plans to have over 100 researchers and engineers working there by year's end.
With its California DMV permit, Baidu becomes the 15th company to receive approval from the state. Others with the permit include traditional automakers such as Volkswagen <VOWG_p.DE> and Ford Motor Co, as well as technology firms including Alphabet's Google, and Chinese electric vehicle start-up Faraday Future.
In August, both Baidu and Ford jointly invested $150 million in Velodyne, a Silicon Valley maker of laser-based sensors that are a key building block for self-driving cars.
A flurry of well-funded Chinese tech firms, including Alibaba, have poured money and resources into the automotive sector, with many launching new electric car start-ups, some of them based in California.
Faraday Future was awarded approval to test its cars in California in June.
(Reporting By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Alan Crosby)