Baidu further strengthens AI capability after buying Silicon Valley start-up xPerception

Company continues to focus on AI to regain traction after Chinese government’s tighter online advertising regulations dampen its core search engine business

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 April, 2017, 7:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 10:42am

Baidu, the operator of China’s dominant online search engine, has bought US start-up xPerception, founded by former engineers from software, internet and computer services firm Magic Leap, as it continues in its quest to attract the best talent in Silicon Valley.

XPerception specialises in visual perception, a key technology that enables intelligent hardware such as robots and drones to “see” the world.

Founded in Mountain View, California, in 2016 by former Magic Leap engineers Bao Yingze and Chen Mingyu, xPerception will have its core team joining Baidu Research and continuing to develop the company’s core technology – visual inertial simultaneous localisation and mapping.

The size of the deal is unknown, and Baidu refused to comment beyond a statement.

The takeover is the latest in a string of investments aimed at strengthening Baidu’s leadership in artificial intelligence.

Earlier this year, it hired former Microsoft executive Lu Qi, a leading AI scientist, as its chief operating officer. The firm also acquired Beijing start-up Raven Tech, which specialises in voice-controlled AI, and integrated its team into its smart home devices business.

The company has been focusing on AI to regain its traction after the Chinese government’s tighter online advertising regulations dampened its core search engine business.

The xPerception acquisition is expected to further strengthen the use of Baidu’s visual perception technology in “key projects like augmented reality and autonomous driving, accelerating the development of AI-based products”, the company said.

“The deployment of AI and machine learning could be disruptive to business models in the way that the introduction of smartphones was. And that means large companies must invest to maintain market position,” said Krik Boodry, an analyst at New Street Research.

Baidu is competing in AI-powered products such as autonomous driving with the likes of Alphabet and Uber Technologies and top talent is seen as the most urgent resource to gain the upper hand in the battlefield.

Robin Li Yanhong, Baidu’s chief executive, has even urged the Chinese government to issue more green cards so that Chinese technology companies can attract more skilled Silicon Valley engineers, who may be put off by US President Donald Trump’s restrictive immigration policies.

The company is setting up a second research and development facility in the area, adding 150 employees.

In late March, it kicked off its first overseas campus recruitment campaign, visiting top US research universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Berkeley and Stanford to boost its AI talent pool.