Baidu hits the road against Alibaba with driverless food deliveries

Baidu hits the road against Alibaba with driverless food deliveries

Search and AI giant Baidu is collaborating with Meituan-Dianping to deliver food to China’s towns and cities via driverless cars.

Baidu and Meituan are set to pilot the autonomous food delivery service in emerging economic zone Xiongan New Area – a residential, business, and development hub that is being constructed about 60 miles outside the capital, Beijing.

Trials were set to begin at the beginning of May, but road construction has yet to be completed in the high-tech suburb, according to a report in Sina.

China’s dragons join battle

$30 billion Meituan-Dianping is China’s biggest Web portal for local products and retail services, including food delivery and ride sharing. On 4 April, it snapped up China’s biggest bike-sharing service, Mobike, in a deal thought to value the startup at $3.7 billion.

Both Meituan and Mobike are backed by Chinese tech holding and investment conglomerate Tencent, which is locked in battle with Alibaba and Baidu for its brands’ dominance in connected services, autonomous transport, and AI.

Earlier this week, Alibaba completed its takeover of Ele.me, which leads Meituan in food delivery. Last year, Baidu offloaded its own takeout food delivery service, Waimai, to Ele.me. Alibaba also backs Mobike’s biggest competitor, ofo.

As with Amazon and Alphabet/Google, Alibaba’s, Baidu’s, and Tencent’s strategies are for the popularity of one service to lock customers into a deeper relationship with their brands or platforms, while gathering data about customer preferences. Spotify rival Tencent Music is expected to go for US IPO later this year.

The Apollo programme

Meanwhile, on 19 April, Baidu announced the latest the iteration of its self-driving platform, Apollo, version 2.5 of which now supports autonomous driving on geofenced highways.

The company is also establishing a cybersecurity lab for the cars, partnering with Tsinghua University and the Beijing Institute of Technology on technologies to counter fake control signals, along with research into secure in-vehicle systems, car-to-car communications, controller area network (CAN bus) technologies, and sensors.

Internet of Business says

China’s tech titans hold up a mirror to the West, with the same scrabble for dominance in connected services, AI, deliveries, driverless cars, robotics, and frictionless shopping taking place in China as in the US and elsewhere.

But while the struggle might be the same, China has a signal advantage over the US in particular: an internal market of over one billion people, and few restrictions on how citizen data can be gathered, analysed, and used to train AI systems.

As trade tariffs and the war of words with the US intensifies, that internal market may be the real bargaining chip.

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.