Baidu has Google-like power over China internet industry, bringing in billions annually through search advertising, cloud computing and other online services. But its ambitions stretch even further than Alphabet’s and include shaking up the automotive industry.
Today in Beijing jidu, a car company recently formed by Baidu and Chinese automaker Geely, has unveiled a prototype of its first car, a futuristic, largely autonomous hatchback called the Robo-1. The company says it will cost at least $30,000 and is expected to go on sale next year.
Robo-1 is sleek and angular, with doors that lift up at the front and open back at the back. The stock interior includes racing-style seats, a yoke steering wheel and a widescreen display that covers the entire dashboard. The car is littered with sensors, including lidar, to display the 3D road that appears from under the hood when activated. Jidu says the final Robo-1 model will be 90 percent the same as the one shown in Beijing, but didn’t specify what elements might change.
Beyond the polished interior, Baidu is essentially betting that the growing importance of software in vehicles, especially artificial intelligencein which Baidu has invested heavily over the past decade, gives it an opportunity to assert itself in a highly competitive and rapidly changing industry.
Baidu hopes to achieve widespread transition to electric batteries and powertrains. In January of this year, Jidu announced that it had received $400 million in Series A funding from Baidu and Geely, on top of a previous $300 million investment. Geely has a successful track record of producing electric vehicles with polar Starsubsidiary Volvoas well as several Chinese brands.
In an exclusive interview with WIRED ahead of the launch, Jidu CEO Xia Yiping, alias Jo Xia, explained the reason for the jump. “For a long time, the computing power of a car was much less than our smartphone, but things are changing,” Xia said on Zoom from the company’s headquarters in the Chinese city of Shanghai.
An automotive industry veteran, Xia previously worked on connected car technology at Fiat Chrysler and Ford before co-founding Mobike, a Chinese bike-sharing company acquired by food delivery firm Meituan in 2018. He remembers learning to drive in graduate school. in the UK, watching YouTube videos and driving around parking lots is far from creating self-driving cars.
Jidu’s autonomous driving technology will be a customized version Apollo, an open platform developed by Baidu and several partners, used by dozens of automakers in China. Jidu says its car will be able to drive autonomously on most roads with driver supervision. Baidu says it has accumulated more than 16.7 million miles of controlled autonomous driving through Apollo as of April. Xia compares the processing power Baidu uses to train autonomous driving algorithms with the user’s supercomputer developed by Tesla to hone their software, Autopilot.
Xia says that Jidu decided it should design and build cars, rather than just sell software to other automakers, because of the importance of integrating software and hardware over the years. in smartphone space. This includes the development of a powerful system-on-a-chip to run the vehicle’s software. Jidu will also make extensive use of voice control, another artificial intelligence technology that Baidu has been developing and refining for years in products such as smart speakers. And Jidu will strive to continuously improve vehicle performance through regular software updates via mobile communication. “The high-tech industry can infiltrate the automotive industry and really drive the evolution of cars over the next five to ten years,” says Xia.
It is fair to say that the automotive industry is undergoing modernization. Tesla’s success coincided with a growing focus on computing power, software, and connectivity along with electricity. In recent years, consumer technology brands have also shown a growing interest in creating automotive niches. Chipmaker Nvidia now sells chips for increasingly sophisticated infotainment and instrument displays, as well as standalone systems. Google created Waymo, a company specializing in creating autonomous driving software for car manufacturers. As well as Apple Rumor has it that the company is exploring the possibility of creating its own car. But Baidu will be the first major tech firm to make and sell cars, albeit through a subsidiary.
Collaboration with Geely could give Jidu a big boost when it comes to the infamous complex business of building vehicles in high volumes and with high reliability, says Tu Le, Managing Director Chinese Automotive Analytics, an analytical company specializing in the automotive sector in China. He adds that China’s auto industry is electrifying at a faster rate than in Europe or the US due to government policies, a less entrenched gasoline industry, and because such a large population allows new technologies to catch on faster.
Robo-1 shows how big, innovative and rapidly developing China’s automotive industry is. Mingyu Guang, a partner at McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm specializing in the sector. Guang says that most of China’s big Internet companies are developing in-car technology in one way or another, and consumers expect an app-like experience from their cars. “China is a leading beacon for the industry,” says Guan.
Baidu’s jump into the automotive industry along with Jidu is also a sign of the evolution of China’s technology industry. Over the past couple of years, large Internet, social media, and popular apps companies have faced increased scrutiny and pressure from regulators, such as the imposition of strict new rules on data privacy and algorithm transparency.
The Chinese government has also announced its intention to regulate the Internet more tightly, as well as to encourage the development of technologies of long-term economic importance. Baidu and other firms appear to be looking to reinvent themselves by focusing on “deep tech” that the state sees as more valuable, including technologies for electric vehicles and autonomous driving. Baidu’s latest quarterly results released in May also show that Baidu AI Cloud revenue increased by 45 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2022., and online marketing revenue decreased by 4%. Net losses for this period amounted to $133 million.
Baidu has made significant investments and received government support for autonomous driving. In November 2017, the Chinese government named Baidu one of the few “national champions” AI and made the company responsible for building an autonomous driving platform that could be used across the industry. Government support has also given Baidu an advantage in dealing with existing auto companies. In March, the company published more than 3,700 patent applications related to this technology in China. And in April this year, Apollo Go, Baidu’s autonomous taxi service, which already operates in 10 cities in China, received the country’s first driverless autonomous vehicle testing driving in Beijing.
Apollo is also integrating with a smart city platform marketed by Baidu, which has been adopted by 41 cities in China. This platform promises to help local authorities predict and manage congestion, traffic safety and pollution with the help of AI. Baidu CEO Robin Li spoke about the potential of autonomous driving to reduce traffic accidents, congestion and carbon emissions in China at Baidu’s annual developer conference held in December 2021.
Jidu will no doubt be encouraged by the broader progress made by China’s auto industry, driven in large part by the advent of electric vehicles. Chinese EV sales jumped 169% in 2021 from a year earlier. China Passenger Car Association data, an industry organization. In 2021, electric vehicles accounted for 14.8% of car sales in China, compared to 4.1% in the US. Chinese car firms now too exports a growing number of electric vehicles to Europe.
The Chinese government has provided cheap capital and other incentives to battery and electric vehicle makers. The government has also offered generous subsidies to consumers buying electric models expiring in 2022, though reportedly discussed their extension. Beijing has also set a target for manufacturers to have 40% of all car sales come from electric vehicles by 2030.
In addition to entering an increasingly competitive market, companies like Baidu will need to reassure car buyers that they can master manufacturing and produce safe and reliable vehicles, according to Sino Auto Insights’ Leh. “There is an emotional connection to buying a car,” he says. . “It will be harder for these tech companies to convince consumers to trust them with their child’s life.”
Credit: www.wired.com /