Baidu Launches Second Generation AI Chip and 'Robocar' Prototype

Kimberly Redmond  |

Video source: YouTube, Baidu Inc.

Baidu Inc (Nasdaq:  BIDU) has unveiled its second-generation artificial intelligence (AI) chip, a prototype of its first-ever fully autonomous robocar and a rebranded driverless taxi app, which are the Chinese internet giant’s latest investments in areas it believes are key to future growth.

The reveals came Wednesday, during the company’s flagship technology conference Baidu World, which this year aimed to showcase “how artificial intelligence will permeate our daily lives and bring about new, improved experiences.” 

During the event, Baidu announced that it has started to mass produce the Kunlun II, its second-generation AI chip. The company said the new chip’s computational capability will be two to three times better than the original chip, and its applications will include autonomous driving, smart traffic and smart assistants. 

CNBC noted that Baidu, which is known as China’s biggest search engine player, has spent the past few years diversifying its business beyond advertising in the face of growing competition and a rocky advertising market.  

In March, Baidu raised money for its Kunlun chip unit valuing it at $2 billion. According to Reuters, Baidu is considering commercializing its AI chip design capabilities and possibly making Kunlun a standalone company.

Several other Chinese tech giants, including Baidu’s rivals Alibaba Group Holdings and Tencent Holdings, have stepped up efforts to design their own chips to reduce dependence on foreign producers.

Baidu also debuted a 100% autonomous vehicle prototype but did not say whether or not the robocar would be mass produced. 

In a video demonstrating the vehicle’s abilities, Baidu showed it making U-turns, adapting driving directions based on a user’s commands and swerving around obstacles in real time.

“We believe that cars of the future will be robocars. They will drive autonomously, act as both an intelligent assistant and loyal companion, and be self-learning," said Robin Li, co-founder and chief executive officer of Baidu.

Alongside the concept car, Baidu announced a new robotaxi mobile platform, Apollo, which aims to commercialize autonomous driving, making hailed autonomous vehicles accessible to the broader public. 

Since its launch two years ago, Apollo has provided more than 400,000 rides during a pilot program across four cities, Beijing, Guangzhou, Changsha and Cangzhou, which Baidu said sets a “solid foundation” to transition it to a “commercial operation.” 

In addition to expanding the service, which was the first paid autonomous ride-hailing offering in China, Baidu is rebranding the platform “Luobo Kuaipao,” which means “radish run fast.” 

Baidu recently inked a partnership with state-owned manufacturer BAIC Group to build 1,000 autonomous vehicles over the next three years for its robotaxi service.

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The vehicles are being produced at a cost of 480,000 yuan ($75,000) each, which Baidu touted as a third of the average cost for manufacturing a Level 4 self-driving car.

Baidu also announced four new pieces of hardware at Baidu World, including a smart screen and a TV equipped with Xiaodu, the company’s AI voice assistant.

The company further announced the pricing of $1 billion aggregate principal amount of notes, $300 million of 1.625% notes due 2027 and $700 million of 2.375% notes due 2031.

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Source: Equities News

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