Baidu Launches A “Robocar” And Prepares A Future Between AI And Autonomous Driving

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Baidu, Inc., the Chinese Internet giant, is flexing its muscles for the future and proposes itself as a leader in AI and mobility.

Article by Gianluca Riccio

In one fell swoop, Baidu unveiled its second-generation artificial intelligence chip, its first robocar and driverless taxi app, highlighting how these new technology areas will be critical to the company’s future growth.

AI And Hyper-Intelligent Mobility, The Future Of The World For Baidu

The Beijing-based company, known as China’s largest search engine operator, has focused on diversifying its business. And from the advertising market—which is also in difficulty due to growing competition—it has moved on to a range of respectable possibilities.

Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, tried to convince investors that the company’s future lies in artificial intelligence and related areas such as autonomous driving.

On 18 August 2021, during its annual Baidu World conference, the company launched the second generation Kunlun AI chip, Kunlun II, its second generation AI chip. The semiconductor is designed to help devices process huge amounts of data and increase computing power. Baidu says the chip can be used in areas such as autonomous driving, and that the chip has already entered the mass production stage.

Digital visual of the Kunlun II AI Chip. Photo credit: Baidu, Inc.

Baidu’s first-generation Kunlun chip was launched in 2018. Earlier this year, Baidu raised funds for its chip unit reaching a monstrous figure of over € 2 billion (US$2.36 billion).

Baidu has also unveiled a “robocar”, an autonomous vehicle with doors that open like wings and a large screen inside for entertainment. It is not equipped with pedals or steering, which says it all about the Chinese company’s vision.

“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 CEO of Baidu, as he unveiled his vision for autonomous vehicles of the future – a robocar with L5 autonomous driving capabilities.

Li envisions that intelligent vehicles of the future will be more like intelligent robots: they will move, they will communicate, and they will learn. The robocar will not only be your vehicle, but also your driver, secretary, personal assistant. It will drive automatically, understand your words, take orders and continuously learn from you and upgrade to serve you a more personalised experience.

Featuring automated gull-wing doors and a transparent glass roof, all integrated with external sensors, the design of the new robocar is a dramatic break from traditional vehicles, and even from existing autonomous vehicles on the market. The interior features zero-gravity seats, a large curved intelligent display and control pad, with the steering wheel and pedals notably missing. Complete with voice and facial recognition, and advanced AI technology, the robocar can analyse the internal and external surroundings and make predictive suggestions to proactively serve the needs of its passengers.

Interior of Baidu’s robocar, featuring an intelligent display, control pad and no steering wheel or pedals. Photo credit: Baidu, Inc.

The concept car highlights Baidu’s ambitions in autonomous driving, which analysts say could be a multi-billion dollar business for the Chinese tech giant.

Luobo Kuaipao

The robocar unveiling comes after a robotaxi service is activated in some cities, including Guangzhou and Beijing, where users can hail an autonomous taxi via the company’s Apollo Go app in a limited area.

Baidu renamed that app: it is now called “Luobo Kuaipao” and the launch of the large-scale robotaxi service will follow.

Li’s vision of intelligent vehicles of the future doesn’t stop at the car shown on stage. In his remarks at Baidu World 2021, Li also spoke about the shift to the autonomous driving 2.0 era, which is marked by a transition from the technical verification stage to large-scale commercial operations. Li sees Luobo Kuaipao, the new robotaxi mobile platform that Baidu announced to prepare for commercial operations of robotaxis, as critical in this stage, allowing everyone to take part in the development and popularisation of shared autonomous vehicles.

In June, Baidu has in fact announced a partnership with the state-owned carmaker BAIC Group to build 1,000 driverless cars in the next three years market a robotaxi service throughout China.

Baidu also announced four new hardware components, including a smart screen and a TV equipped with Xiaodu, the company’s AI voice assistant. Things that in the overall picture of the presentation, however interesting, appear as details.

In short, an exponential growth. We will see if in the next few years Baidu will set foot in the West by “crossing the gloves” with technological giants such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook.

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This article was originally published in Futuroprossimo. Republished under license Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

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