LAS VEGAS — Harnessing the power of data generated by a population of 1.38 billion people — 1.1 billion of whom are on smart phones — Chinese technology giant Baidu is going all in on artificial intelligence.
And at CES on Monday, an array of executives from the company drove that point home with examples of the pace of innovation the company is pursuing — “China Speed,” they called it.
Qi Lu, the former Microsoft executive VP who led the Redmond, Wash.-software giant’s work for more than seven years on Bing, Skype and Office, joined Baidu a year ago as chief operating officer. He led Monday’s “Baidu World” media event, saying that the AI era has already arrived and that all you have to do is walk around CES to witness how many companies are chasing the two frontiers — autonomous driving and voice.
Lu said that at Baidu, there are no employee badges, the ubiquitous tech-worker identifiers. Everything is facial recognition based, he said, and throughout the company’s 2-hour presentation, face ID figured heavily in videos.
Baidu opened an engineering office in the Seattle area in October, and company President Ya-Qin Zhang said before an opening party for the GeekWire Summit that “AI is the single most transformative force of our time; it is changing everything we do.”
Baidu announced releases in two core areas of its work around AI. The company revealed three new smart hardware products powered by its voice-integrated system, DuerOS 2.0. It also showed off advancements around its open autonomous driving platform, with Apollo 2.0.
Eric Jing, general manager of Baidu’s DuerOS division, showed the smart hardware, which included a new Little Fish VSI smart speaker; a Sengled smart lamp speaker; and the popIn Aladdin, a voice-enabled dome light with projector functionality which will target the Japanese market and folks who don’t have space in tiny apartments for today’s giant TVs.
Jing called DuerOS “the Alexa of China — and much more than that” and indeed, some of the product line even resembled Amazon’s releases around Echo and Echo Show in particular.
“What is a projector lamp?” Jing said, referencing the third, ceiling-mounted item on the list. “It’s a projector. And it’s a lamp,” he added, drawing laughter from the packed room at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Baidu’s latest iteration of its autonomous driving platform marks the opening up of all four of the platform’s major modules — cloud services, software platforms, reference hardware platforms and reference vehicle platforms.
Apollo 2.0 was showcased through a variety of “mobility scenarios,” including a passenger car, mini public bus, street sweeper and small delivery vehicle.
Baidu even patched in workers live from a very chilly and early morning Beijing to demonstrate what it called the world’s first autonomous vehicle parade.
Zhang, the company president, closed the presentation, by inviting an array of partners to the stage, including Microsoft. Microsoft Azure will provide intelligent cloud services in markets outside of China for the Apollo platform and its partners, with Apollo’s simulation functions available first on Azure to global customers.