Baidu leads funding round for Chinese assistive driving start-up
Advanced driver assistance seen as interim technology on the road to fully autonomous vehicles
Chinese artificial intelligence leader Baidu has invested in a Beijing start-up focused on assistive driving technology, seen as an interim step towards fully autonomous cars.
Beijing Smarter Eyes Technology raised close to 100 million yuan (US$15 million) in a third round of funding this week, led by Baidu’s autonomous driving fund.
The funding will bankroll mass production of Smarter Eyes’ advanced driver assistance systems, which help prevent tailgating, and enable further research on visual sensor systems and other similar products installed at the front of vehicles, Jiang An, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.
The investment comes amid Baidu’s commitment to invest in more than 100 autonomous driving projects over the next three years, as it competes with rivals from Google and Uber to JD.com in the development of AI-powered autonomous vehicles.
Founded in 2014 by eight former employees from Microsoft, Samsung, Nokia and the Institute of Automation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Smarter Eyes provides stereoscopic vision technology that can be used in assistive and autonomous driving.
The Beijing-based start-up has signed contracts with several car companies including BAIC Group and bus maker King Long, both of which have entered into strategic partnerships with Baidu, according to a person close to the matter.
“We have sold over 10,000 on-board assistive driving devices in China, and will soon start sales in the US through distributors,” Wang Junda, the company’s spokesman, said in an interview.
The devices, equipped with a set of binocular vision sensors, detect nearby obstacles and facilitate safer driving.
Smarter Eyes is also looking to use the new funding to develop a new version of an application-specific chip for image processing and analysis, according to the statement.
In previous funding rounds the start-up attracted investments from Lenovo Capital, Incubator Group, Guojin Capital and Longling Capital. State-owned Zhongguancun Development Group took part in the latest round led by Apollo Fund.
Nasdaq-listed Baidu plans to start production of self-driving buses by the middle of next year.