Baidu self-driving car

Chinese firm switches focus on smart AI devices and a new AI platform for self-driving cars and taxis.

China-based internet services firm Baidu is aiming to ramp up its presence in the Internet of Things (IoT), with a number of new projects.

The firm plans to work with speaker manufacturer Harman International Industrial to create a smart AI device similar to Amazon’s Echo, which can understand spoken commands, enabling users to instruct it to order food, call a cab or control smart home products, reports Bloomberg.

The Chinese company is also partnering with chipmaker Nvidia, to develop a computing platform for self-driving cars and taxis which would incorporate cloud-based HD maps, according to Fortune.

World-class AI

Nvidia’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang told delegates at the Baidu World Conference, that the firms were going to “bring together the technical capabilities and the expertise in AI and the scale of two world-class AI companies to build the self-driving car architecture from end-to-end, from top-to-bottom, from the cloud to the car”.

The platform will be open to other car manufacturers who are interested in developing their own self-driving cars. Bloomberg states that Baidu has already completed a successful autonomous test drive around Beijing in December. The company has since said it wants to launch autonomous vehicles in 10 Chinese cities within three years, as well as plans for a self-driving shuttle on Chinese public roads by the end of 2018.

The Nvidia partnership comes on the back of Baidu getting approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicle to test self-driving cars on public roads in the US state, according to TechCrunch. The company had previously invested a total of $150m along with Ford in Velodyne, a supplier of key LIDAR components used in driverless car systems.

The company, which is regularly referred to as China’s version of Google, has primarily focused on its Chinese search engine for websites, audio files and images. It also has an online encyclopaedia similar to Wikipedia, and a music service dubbed Baidu Music. It’s clear, however, that the firm is now focusing its efforts on AI, and that it sees IoT as a huge overlapping part of that focus.

By Sooraj Shah.