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Baidu engages in development of Xiongan New Area with artificial intelligence

Lake of Xiongan New Area on April 5, 2017 Photo: Getty Images 

Technology giant Baidu will help a newly established Chinese economic area turn into a modern smart city, as the company is increasing efforts to develop artificial intelligence technologies in a race to get the global technology leadership.

Last week, Baidu and the administrative committee of the Xiongan New Area signed a strategic cooperation agreement, which allows the two partners to jointly build the new economic zone into an artificial intelligence-powered city.

Established in April this year, the Xiongan New Area in the northern province of Hebei is an important part of China's national strategy to promote the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and phase out functions from overpopulated Beijing that are not related to the capital.

According to the agreement, Baidu will provide the Xiongan New Area with its expertise in artificial intelligence, big data, autonomous driving and cloud computing, while launching pilot projects for some intelligent industries including smart transport, smart education and smart healthcare.

In order to reach the goals, Baidu and the Hebei provincial government will jointly establish an artificial intelligence laboratory, said the agreement.

At the signing ceremony, Baidu's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robin Li said that artificial intelligence would play a key part in the development of the Xiongan New Area, which he described as a "centennial project". "We hope to work with the Xiongan New Area to promote the construction of artificial intelligence infrastructure there in an effort to build it into a smart city with high efficiency, clean environment and convenience," said Li.

The highlight of the strategic collaboration is "smart public transport" and "autonomous driving".

At the World Internet Conference held in the eastern Chinese town of Wuzhen in early-December, Li boasted the company's plans to apply its cutting-edge artificial intelligence and self-driving technologies in the Xiongan New Area as part of efforts to solve the city's traffic problems. Li also expressed the hope of building the Xiongan New Area into a city with the lowest rate of traffic accidents and the highest level of travel convenience with its technologies.

In October, Baidu was invited to build a demonstration area of automated driving in the Xiongan New Area, with the rapid development of the company's Apollo self-driving platform, which later in November was included into the Ministry of Science and Technology-led "national team" that is tasked with developing next-generation artificial intelligence technologies.

With more than 70 members including automakers, technology giants, research institutions and parts suppliers, the Apollo program intends to bring a full set of solutions for completely automated driving on highways and ordinary city roads by 2020. The program will provide third-party partners with the technologies that enable cars to autonomously run in designated lanes.

On the day when the strategic cooperation agreement was signed, the board of directors of the Apollo platform held its first meeting in the Xiongan New Area, where the development and management of driverless cars for city roads as well as the cooperation with the new economic zone in making the policies for autonomous driving were discussed. Meanwhile, Baidu also tested a fleet of Apollo-labelled autonomous cars on the Xiongan New Area's pubic roads on the day after getting official approval.

Last week, Beijing became the first Chinese city to conditionally allow the companies registered in the country to conduct road tests for autonomous cars. The move was described by some experts as a sign that the ban on road tests of driverless cars would be lifted in some provinces including Hebei where the Xiongan New Area is located.

The announcement of the strategic cooperation between Baidu and the Xiongan New Area came a month after the country's Internet giant Tencent forged a strategic partnership with the Xiongan New Area, under which the Internet giant would fully play its core ability in areas of financial big data, financial cloud, block chain and artificial intelligence to comprehensively engage in the development plan of the new economic zone.

The Xiongan New Area appears to be the second home to China's top technology companies, as domestic media reports said that some of operations of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, collectively known as BAT, would be relocated there.


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