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China’s Cheetah Mobile pounces on robotics

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 8:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 8:41pm

Chinese technology company Cheetah Mobile, the world’s leading mobile security and utility apps developer, has committed to invest US$50 million in the field of robotics as the company expands its operations.

Fu Sheng, chief executive at Cheetah Mobile, described robotics as “the ultimate evolution” of the New York-listed company’s mobile tools business.

The new Cheetah Robotics research and development initiative was unveiled by Fu in Beijing on Wednesday at the firm’s Connect Summit in Beijing, a conference for apps developers around the world.

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The investment will be used to build up the company’s expertise in so-called deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

“Our 2016 strategy is very clear,” Fu said. “We’ll use our utility products as the entry point for mobile users, then add content products to build a platform, increasing the engagement of our users.”

Apart from its flagship anti-virus and systems-cleaning apps, Cheetah Mobile is also a top mobile game developer in the world in both Apple iOS and Android platforms. The company’s monthly active users topped 635 million in the fourth quarter last year.

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In a research note, Nomura analyst Huang Leping said commercialised AI technologies are currently limited to facial and voice identification, as well as understanding voice and images in call centre operations.

“But AlphaGo’s success shows the possibility that a machine can actually make better decisions than humans who created it, based on collected information,” Huang said.

AlphaGo, an AI program developed by Google, beat a South Korean grandmaster of the highly complex game called Go in a widely followed five-match series in March.

“We think the development of AI technology will accelerate the progress of machines towards

understanding and thinking like humans, also driving the commercialisation of autonomous driving, as well as mass adoption of humanoid robot assistants, and may eventually replace some of the work currently performed by humans,” Huang said.

Chinese online search giant Baidu, a strategic investor in Cheetah Mobile, has focused a lot of its resources in sharpening its AI expertise and developing autonomous self-driving cars.

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“We believe Big Data, computing power and algorithm are the three major building blocks of AI,” Huang said.

“Big Data technology is a central strategy for Cheetah Mobile in 2016 and beyond,” company chief technology officer Charles Fan told the South China Morning Post in February. He is leading the company’s big data research and development efforts in California’s Silicon Valley.

The development of advance AI software on China will likely form an integral part of the central government’s new “Industrial Robot Development Plan” for 2016-2020, which was announced earlier this month.

China’s five-year plan to transform its robotics industry

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Finance have jointly set a goal to bring research and development in China’s industrial robotics industry on a par with those in the United States, Japan and Western Europe.