Didi Chuxing launches Silicon Valley research institute in bid to attract leading tech talent

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 March, 2017, 2:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 March, 2017, 10:19pm

Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing announced on Thursday the launch of a Silicon Valley-based research institute, as part of its latest effort to attract top talent to advance intelligent driving technologies.

Located in Mountain View, California, the facility, Didi Labs, will initially focus on recruiting specialists in artificial intelligence and other fields that apply to intelligent driving technologies.

The lab, which is Didi’s first facility outside China, is only 16 kilometres away from Apple’s Campus 2 in Cupertino. Didi said in the statement that it “expects to rapidly expand its US-based team of scientists and engineers over the course of the year”.

The facility will be led by Gong Fengmin, vice president of Didi Research Institute. A dozen of leading data scientists and researchers have joined the team, including former Uber employee Charlie Miller,one of the world’s foremost automobile security experts.

“As we strive to bring better services to broader communities, Didi’s international vision now extends to building the best-in-class international research network, advancing the global transportation revolution by leveraging innovative resources. The launch of Didi Labs is a landmark in creating this global nexus of innovation,” Cheng Wei, chief executive of Didi said in a statement.

Backed by a string of high-profile companies, including Apple, Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding, Didi has faced some challenges in China after local governments raised the threshold to block migrant workers from becoming drivers for car-on-demand services, a move that largely reduced the number of service providers on Didi’s platform.

The company, which has upgraded its organisational structure earlier this year, has set up a dedicated international business unit and set eyes on autonomous driving to establish itself as one of the largest ride-hailing giants in the artificial intelligence era.

Bob Zhang, Didi’s chief technology officer, called for top minds in artificial intelligence and intelligent driving research to join the company at the launch of the Didi-Udacity Self-Driving Car Challenge at Udacity’s Intersect conference in Mountain View scheduled to take place on Thursday.

Didi’s effort comes as Chinese tech tycoons have called for more government support to make China a global artificial intelligence power during the ongoing Two Sessions in Beijing, the country’s biggest annual political show.

A shortage of talent is one of the headwinds face by China as it seeks to become a leader in a leader in intelligent systems.

Robin Li, chief executive officer of Baidu

wants Beijing to relax its immigration policy and offer more green cards to attract top engineering talent. Baidu is competing with Uber Technologies and Alphabet’s Waymo to commercialise self-driving technology.

“The restrictive immigration policy introduced by US President Trump gives China a great opportunity to attract top tech talent around the globe,” he said at a panel during the Two Sessions.

China has set a goal for 10 to 20 per cent of vehicles to be highly autonomous by 2025, and for 10 per cent of cars to be fully self-driving in 2030.