'China's Uber' ramps up AI arms race, says it will open third deep learning research lab
China’s dominant ride-hailing company gears up for second Beijing facility dedicated to artificial intelligence, bringing the number of research labs to three
Didi Chuxing, the largest ride-hailing app operator in China, has decided to add a third research facility, located in Beijing, in the wake of renewed competition, 16 months after rival Uber ended operations in the country.
The facility will consolidate research efforts in artificial intelligence, including deep learning, computer vision and natural language processing technologies for smart transportation, according to Ye Jieping, vice president of Didi Chuxing.
Didi Chuxing currently operates two artificial intelligence research labs based in Silicon Valley and Beijing.
“Didi has been touching and expanding boundaries of smart traffic innovation. There’s plenty of research data to comb through and precipitate,” said Ye.
The same technology that underlines AlphaGo – Google’s AI programme that last year beat the world’s leading Go players Ke Jie and Lee Sedol – is also adopted to optimise navigation routes and match sharing rides by move prediction, according to Ye.
Didi, which counts hi-tech giants Apple, Alibaba Group Holding, and Tencent Holdings among its biggest shareholders, is the world’s second largest private company with a valuation of US$56 billion. Last month, the Beijing-based company secured more than US$4 billion in equity funding led by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group.
Didi has more than 400 million users in China.
The opening of the new lab comes amid concerns of a looming price war in China’s ride-hailing industry.
Last month, Meituan-Dianping, China’s largest on-demand services provider, signalled its ambition to expand into the ride-hailing sector, saying it planned to start services in Beijing as soon as it collects 200,000 sign-ups from potential future customers and drivers. Other cities under consideration by the company include Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xiamen.
To entice new customers, Meituan-Dianping is offering three discount coupons and exempting drivers who sign up early from commission fees for the first three months.
Earlier this month, Geely Auto said it had raised 1 billion yuan (US$158.12 million) from investors for its electric car ride-hailing unit CaoCao Car.