(Reuters) - Baidu Inc (BIDU.O) said on Tuesday it would launch its self-driving car technology for restricted environment in July before gradually introducing fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads by 2020.

The project is named Apollo after the lunar landing program, the Chinese search giant said, adding it would work with partners who provide vehicles, sensors and other components for the new technology.

As part of its push into artificial intelligence (AI), the company in January named former Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) executive Qi Lu as chief operating officer.

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Two months after the appointment, Baidu's chief scientist Andrew Ng, who led AI and augmented reality (AR) projects, said he would step down.

The company also launched a $200 million fund in October to focus on AI, AR and deep learning, followed by a $3 billion fund announced in September to target mid- and late- stage start-ups.

"AI has great potential to drive social development, and one of AI's biggest opportunities is intelligent vehicles," Qi said in a statement.

In November, Baidu and German automaker BMW AG (BMWG.DE) said they would end their joint research on self-driving cars due to differences in opinion on how to proceed.

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Technology and automotive leaders contend that cars of the future will be capable of completely driving themselves, revolutionizing the transportation industry, with virtually all carmakers as well as companies such as Alphabet's Google (GOOGL.O) and parts supplier Delphi (DLPH.N) investing heavily in developing the technology.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S and Shalini Nagarajan in Bengaluru; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri)