Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, like its US-based counterpart Google, is heavily investing in autonomous driving technologies and today it officially announced the launch of a self-driving car R&D center in Silicon Valley, right in Google’s backyard.

The company expects its team will grow to over 100 researchers and engineers by the end of the year. The company already moved several of its staff from its newly-created Autonomous Driving Unit (ADU) to Sunnyvale and recently hired a Tesla Autopilot software engineer.

Liang Heng, a PhD graduate in Electrical Engineering from Stanford,joined Tesla’s Autopilot team last year after CEO Eon Musk called for “hardcore software engineers” to join the company’s effort to make the next generation of Autopilot fully autonomous. Now he leaves the automaker only 5 months later to join Baidu’s autonomous driving team as a ‘Software Architect’.

Prior to joining Tesla, Heng was working at Google on Street View. Coincidently, the man in charge of Baidu’s Autonomous Driving Unit (ADU), Jing Wang, is also formerly from Google.

Wang commented on the launch of the new R&D center:

“Baidu is fully committed to making self-driving cars a reality. Autonomous vehicles will save lives and make transportation more efficient. Baidu’s Silicon Valley car team will play a significant role in building the car of the future.”

Baidu says that the team will include machine learning researchers as well as hardware and software engineers across a variety of technical domains, from robotics and computer vision to onboard computers and sensors. The company will also be looking for engineers with experience in the automotive industry.

Its Sunnyvale offices are already full of AI and machine learning experts led by Andrew Ng, the founder and lead scientist of Google’s Deep Learning project. He is now Chief Scientist for Baidu in Silicon Valley.

Pictures: Baidu’s Sunnyvale offices via South Bay Construction