Autonomous vehicles are in danger of being turned into “weapons”, leading governments around the world to block cars operated by foreign companies, the head of Baidu’s self-driving car programme has warned. Qi Lu, chief operating officer at the Chinese internet group, said security concerns could become a problem for global carmakers and technology companies, including the US and China. “It has nothing to do with any particular government — it has to do with the very nature of autonomy,” he said on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show last week.

“You have an object that is capable of moving by itself. By definition, it is a weapon.” Increasingly, self-driving technology is seen as advancing faster than regulators can keep up with. Regional and national governments are grappling with the issue of when to allow autonomous cars on to their roads and under what conditions. Multinational companies will have a “high bar” to meet local policy requirements for autonomous driving, Mr Lu said. “The days of building a vehicle in one place and it runs everywhere are over. Because a vehicle that can move by itself by definition it is a weapon.” Baidu is investing heavily in Apollo, its open-source autonomous car software, as it looks to diversify away from its core business of internet advertising into artificial intelligence.

At CES, it unveiled Apollo 2.0, which offers improved security, alongside a new $200m fund to invest in south-east Asian efforts to improve autonomous driving. It has already agreed partnerships with US chip companies, including Intel and Nvidia, as well as American and European carmakers Ford and Daimler. In China it is working with local auto manufacturers JAC and BAIC, who plan to start producing autonomous vehicles based on Apollo as soon as next year.