Investors are probably familiar with some of the more well-known and publicized developer conferences that have become launching pads for the latest next-generation technology.Events like Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and Alphabet's Google I/O are among the most high-profile.
Last year, Chinese search giant Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) sought to join the ranks of companies hosting world-class developer conferences by announcing its first-ever artificial-intelligence-focused event, which it dubbed Baidu Create. The inaugural event brought together some of the biggest names in AI, highlighting the growing importance of the technology to Baidu's future.
The second annual event wrapped up earlier this month, and like last year, Baidu made a number of important announcements that should be of interest to investors regarding its progress in the realm of AI.
A chip off the old block
Baidu announced the development of Kunlun, "China's first cloud-to-edge AI chip, built to accommodate high performance requirements of a wide variety of AI scenarios." The processor can be used for both inference and training of AI systems, and it can support a number of AI applications, including voice recognition, natural language processing, and search ranking. The chip can be deployed in "both cloud and edge scenarios, such as data centers, public clouds and autonomous vehicles."
The biggest names in technology are increasingly looking to create processors designed to meet the specific use cases of AI. Over the past couple of years, both Google and Microsoft have introduced specialized chips to run in their data centers, and recent reports suggest that Amazon is seeking to create a processor that will accelerate responses from its family of Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers.
Not a drive-by
Baidu is widely regarded as having the most advanced autonomous driving platform in its native China. Its platform is called Apollo. The company has said its goal is to be the Android of the auto industry, and it has been assembling an impressive list of more than 100 global partners in the process.
The company announced at the conference that it had realized its goal to have an autonomous vehicle in mass production by July 2018. Baidu's Level 4 self-driving mini-bus, Apolong, developed in partnership with Chinese vehicle manufacturer King Long, saw the 100th unit roll off the assembly line, a happening that was live-streamed at the conference. The Apolong, which holds 14 people, is "China's first commercially deployed fully autonomous bus." The vehicle incorporates Apollo 3.0, the latest version of the platform, "to better support autonomous driving in geo-fenced areas" or locations that use GPS to create virtual boundaries.
The initial run of vehicles will be deployed to a number of locations in China including "parks, industrial campuses and airports in five Chinese cities."
Hands across the water
For those not familiar with SoftBank, the company is a Japanese telecom and internet provider and voracious investor in technology. The company holds positions in well-known companies such as Uber and Alibaba and has a controlling stake in U.S. telecom provider Sprint.
Baidu revealed that it was partnering with SB Drive -- the SoftBank subsidiary focused on self-driving technology -- and King Long to "develop and deploy a version of the Apolong self-driving mini bus for the Japanese market." The companies will begin by exporting 10 Apolong mini-buses to Japan early next year. While the number of vehicles may seem quite small, the size of the partnership could grow, and it continues Baidu's tradition of exporting its AI-powered technology to its island neighbor. Additionally, the more data its vehicles compile, the more its self-driving system improves, so it's in Baidu's best interest to get the Apollo system as widely dispersed as possible.
Greater than the sum of its parts
None of these announcements is groundbreaking, but taken together, they show that Baidu is vigorously maintaining its lead in the areas of AI and autonomous driving in China. The company has focused its business around strengthening its mobile foundation and being the leader in AI.
These latest developments show why Baidu is the leader in AI in China, and the company is making all the right moves to maintain that dominance.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Danny Vena owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Amazon, Apple, and Baidu. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A and C shares), Amazon, Apple, and Baidu. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.