Alibaba Gears Up for the Driverless Era, Reaffirms Commitment

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【Summary】China’s Alibaba is looking to accelerate its effort in developing driverless cars.

Michael Cheng    Jun 03, 2018 6:05 AM PT
Alibaba Gears Up for the Driverless Era, Reaffirms Commitment

China's Alibaba is looking to accelerate its effort in developing driverless cars. The tech giant, which has been working on autonomous technology for roughly half a decade, is in the process of acquiring new talent for its automotive projects. 

Alibaba is active in the industry, with several investments in electric vehicle startups, including its participation in a Series B funding round by Xiaopeng Motors, and businesses specializing in artificial intelligence.

Driverless Platform and Software

According to South China Morning Post, Alibaba's goal is to develop an SAE-L4 self-driving car. The company will be focusing on autonomous navigational components and platforms, which underpins the vehicle. Last year, it hired Gang Wang to spearhead operations in Alibaba AI Labs. Wang, which is currently overseeing the research center as a chief scientist, came from Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.  

Like NVIDIA and Baidu, the business is using modified Lincoln MKZ vehicles to test and hone its prototypes.

"We've been doing a lot of research on driverless things," said Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba. "What we want to do is (figure out) how we can make the cars more automatic, more friendly, more like a partner of human beings rather than just a driving tool."

"I believe our children will only work four hours a day and four days a week or maybe three days a week, but they still will tell us they are very busy. Why are they busy? They are in cars."

Interestingly, Alibaba's entry into the autonomous driving and connected car space has been slow but significant. In 2016, the company released a connected vehicle with SAIC Motor Corporation (Roewe RX5). Moreover, the duo formed a partnership, which helped establish a $160 million fund for the development of modern automotive technology.

Competing with Baidu and Tencent

With Alibaba's recent announcement, the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – equivalent to US-based FANG [Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google]) group's presence in the self-driving sector is now complete.

Like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent are also working on an autonomous vehicle with SAE-L4 driverless capabilities. All three businesses are currently conducting open-road trials, in order to gather data for their respective platforms.

Furthermore, the establishments have tapped various companies in the automotive sector for strategic collaboration. As mentioned earlier, Alibaba has agreements with SAIC Motors. Tencent is working closely with Geely, BYD and FAW Group.

Baidu has a myriad of ongoing partnerships in the autonomous driving arena –  Continental, Bosch, Ford, Grab, Microsoft and Honda. Notably, it is in the process of developing the country's first driverless bus with local bus maker King Long United Automotive Industry. Powering its autonomous vehicles is Apollo, which is supported by NVIDIA, NXP, Intel and Renesas.

Earlier this year, the company released a crucial update to the system, bumping it up to Apollo version 2.0. The updates enable a wide range of features, including a cost-effective sensor solution, new maps and support for new reference vehicles (trucks and mini-buses).  

According to Tech Juice, Alibaba does not intend to compete directly with Baidu and Tencent.

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