Baidu Create 2018 this week in Beijing, the second annual AI developer conference sponsored by China’s Internet giant, is looking more and more like Google I/O or the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in Silicon Valley.

Baidu Create 2018
Baidu Create 2018

Certainly, for thousands of local tech developers in China, this conference is a must. But it’s also turning into an event of choice for Intel, where the company can promote its own technology, unveil partnerships and tout the inroads it’s blazing in the Chinese market.

Mobileye & Baidu's Apollo
Timed with this year’s Baidu Create, Intel/Mobileye announced that Mobileye’s Responsibility Sensitive Safety (RSS) model will be designed into both Baidu’s open-source Project Apollo and commercial Apollo Drive programs.

Mobileye sees its proposed RSS model as critical to providing “safety assurance of autonomous vehicle (AV) decision-making” in the era of artificial intelligence.

More specifically, Mobileye recently acknowledged that because AI-based AVs operate probabilistically, they could make mistakes.

To mitigate unsafe operations by AI-driven vehicles, Mobileye said that under the RSS model it is installing two separate systems: 1) AI based on reinforcement learning, which proposes the AV’s next action, and 2) a “safety layer” based on a formal deterministic system that can override an “unsafe” AV decision.

Intel told us that Baidu is the first company to “publicly” announce the adoption of the RSS model.

Now that Baidu’s Apollo program “has a huge backing from the Chinese government,” Egil Juliussen, IHS Markit director of research and principal analyst, for automotive technology, told us, “This will make [the RSS model] real, and help speed up its adoption, initially in China.”

At Baidu Create, Baidu also announced plans to adopt Mobileye’s Surround Computer Vision Kit as its visual perception solution.  

Apollo's impact on global auto market
In one short year, Baidu’s Apollo platform has signed more than 100 companies, while making major advancements by enabling a host of new features that include telematics updates on its open AV platform.

Juliussen noted that Baidu’s Apollo recruits include many technology powerhouses in the West — including Nvidia, Intel, ZF, Bosch and Continental.  “It’s an impressive list,” he said.

Aside from the list of tech vendors who support Baidu’s open AV platform design, how significant is Apollo in the global automotive industry? By promoting an Android-like open platform among car OEMs and tier ones, can Baidu — and by extension, China — really leapfrog the Western AV/EV industry?

One Chinese semiconductor industry executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, recently told us, “Yes, Baidu is making headway with Apollo. But here’s the thing. Does Baidu make cars? Who will actually make Apollo-based cars?”

Juliussen doesn’t think this is a big problem. With leading tier ones and tech companies in the West already eager to make Apollo-based modules, local Chinese automotive manufacturers will find it easy to build Apollo-based AVs/EVs, he explained.

“Initially, they will be Chinese cars for the Chinese market. But local Chinese OEMs will start exporting them in the next five years or so. First, they may be just focused on the low-end segment, which would allow them to capture only a sliver of the market. But over the next decade, they will move onto the high-end market.”

Important to remember is that the Apollo program isn’t just about a hardware platform. Baidu is adding a software platform on top of that, where apps will abound. This opens the door not just to Western tech companies but also Chinese software companies. They can add their own vision-type algorithms, Juliussen explained, allowing China to have its own AI-based autonomous vehicles using their home-grown AI technologies.

AI camera, FPGAs, PaddlePaddle
Separately, Intel used Baidu Create to showcase a host of its own AI-related technologies. These include Xeye, a new AI camera powered by Intel’s Movidius vision processing unit, Baidu’s plan to offer workload acceleration as a service which leverages Intel FPGAs, and Baidu’s deep learning framework, called PaddlePaddle. Intel says Baidu’s PaddlePaddle is now optimized for Intel Xeon scalable processors.

— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times