The second annual Baidu AI Developers Conference, officially known as Baidu Create 2018, opened in Beijing today. Baidu unveiled China’s first cloud-to-edge AI chip, Kunlun, and many other upgraded versions of Baidu’s AI products this morning on the first day of this two-day event. Li Yanhong, known as Robin Li, the founder and CEO of Baidu, introduced Baidu’s latest research achievements in artificial intelligence (AI) field.
Started in 2013, the autonomous driving project was mainly lead and developed by the Baidu Research Institute. At the 2017 Baidu World Congress in November last year, Robin Li stated that Baidu’s Level 4 self-driving bus “Apolong” would be mass-produced by July 2018. Baidu fulfilled this promise at today’s conference.
At the beginning of the conference, Li made a remote call to Chinese bus manufacturer King Long’s manufacturing facility in Xiamen, and live-streamed the production of the 100th mass-produced Baidu self-driving bus Apolong.
Apolong, co-developed with King Long, is outfitted with Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving system capable of Level 4 operations. Level 4 autonomous driving, as defined by the automotive engineering association SAE International means that the vehicle takes over completely in certain conditions.
As the world’s first Level 4 mass-produced autonomous bus, Apolong will be delivered to Beijing, Shenzhen, Tokyo and other cities to begin commercial operations at a later date.
Benefiting from the cooperation between Baidu and the Softbank subsidiary SB Drive, the commercial operations in Japan should foresee a promising future. This also marks Baidu’s entrance into the Japanese self-driving vehicle market. In Japan, the mass-produced Apolong bus will be used as a shuttle bus within nuclear power plants and for aging communities in the Tokyo area.
With the rapid emergence of AI applications, increasingly dramatic requirements are being demanded of computational power. In response, Baidu independently developed the first cloud-to-edge AI chip Kunlun, which includes the training chip Kunlun 818-300 and inference chip Kunlun 818-100.
The development of the Kunlun chip went through more than 20 iterations based on eight years of R&D on the central processing unit (CPU), central processing unit (GPU), field-programmable gate array (FPGA), and AI accelerator related fields. It is currently the most powerful AI chip in the industry, providing 260TOPS performance while consuming 100+ watts of power.
In addition to supporting open source deep learning algorithms, the Kunlun chip also supports a wide variety of AI needs, such as voice recognition, natural language processing, and autonomous driving.
Li said: “Compared with the latest FPGA-based AI accelerator, Kunlun’s performance has improved nearly 30 times! The birth of Kunlun has enabled the Baidu Brain to have more complete software and hardware integration capabilities, which would enhance the computing capacity of Baidu Brain 3.0 version significantly.”
Baidu Brain 3.0 is a developer-focused platform that offers simple access to a range of the company’s AI and machine learning tools via application programming interfaces.
Apollo is Baidu’s autonomous software platform released in April 2017. The latest version Apollo 3.0 which includes more than 220,000 lines of code was released at today’s conference.
The biggest sellor of the newly released Apollo 3.0 is its three programs to help developers and partners to build their own autonomous vehicle within three months.
- Valet Parking: Simply by adding on a camera and an ultrasonic radar, this feature can enable any vehicle to autonomously park at a cost less than 10,000 yuan ($1509). Currently, the car rental company Pand Auto and the Hyundai Motor Company are both the partners of the program.
- MicroCar: In order to address the personnel shortages in logistics, food delivery and other industries, Baidu Apollo created the unmanned MicroCar. The car can autopilot, its batteries and cargo boxes are changeable, and they can be employed in different scenarios such as food delivery and cold chain to increase delivery efficiencies.
- MiniBus: This is the program that helped propel Apolong into mass-production. Baidu Apollo opened up autopilot kits, volume production tool components, security systems and operational scheduling solutions to enable developers to build their own low-speed unmanned minibuses based on these four components.
At the conference, Baidu also released the 3.0 version of the conversational AI system DuerOS and Baidu Brain, making more than 110 new features open to the public.
Being the “B” to China’s tech giants BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent), Baidu is the smallest among the three in terms of market capitalization and revenue. However, Baidu is leading the other two in the AI industry. From Baidu’s “all in AI” strategy put forward by its former COO Luqi, who resigned from Baidu in May, to today’s Baidu Create, it is clear that Baidu has long put AI at the heart of the company’s development strategies.