Leading Chinese Internet search provider Baidu is acquiring US startup xPerception, an AI-based visual perception software and hardware provider for robotics and virtual reality (VR). This provides important talent for the company’s moves into AI, with xPerception co-founders, Dr. Bao Yingze and Dr. Chen Mingyu, who were both key engineers at AR startup Magic Leap. The xPerception team will move to the US and Beijing offices of Baidu Research and continue developing xPerception’s Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology.
SLAM is critical to visual perception used in a variety of AI and VR roles, including 3D vision, robotics, drones and autonomous driving. The base of xPerception technology is a 3D visual inertial camera on mobile platforms, with a sophisticated SDK that enables pose tracking, low-latency sensor fusion, and object recognition. This permits self-localization, 3D structure reconstruction, and path planning in new environments. These technologies linking AI and VR are opening new opportunities, as discussed in the recent blog On the Intersection of AI and Augmented Reality.
In addition to integration with Baidu AI and autonomous driving programs, the xPerception acquisition provides high-demand skills and helps to defray concerns over US regulations and immigration policies. There has recently been potential regulatory blockage of Chinese acquisitions, most notably claims that Alibaba Group’s $1.2 billion bid for U.S. firm MoneyGram International poses national security risks. U.S. lawmakers are requesting review by the Committee on Foreign Investment. Meanwhile, Chinese internet firm LeEco has terminated of a $2 billion bid for U.S. electronics firm Vizio due to regulatory issues. Baidu’s splitting of its AI research between Beijing and California provides assurance that changing US immigration policies will not overly affect research agendas, while providing access to US-based talent and skills networks.
Baidu has been active in AI for some years now, but finding talent in this area is difficult. High-profile chief scientist, Andrew Ng, left the company in March, making addition of experienced AI/VR staff a priority. Its commitment to this area is further demonstrated by the Chinese government’s February selection of Baidu to set up a national AI lab. Baidu Research currently maintains four analytics and AI labs: a Silicon Valley AI Lab, the Institute of Deep Learning, the Big Data Lab and the Augmented Reality Lab. According to Ng, Baidu’s AI group now includes about 1,300 people.
The search for AI talent is global, fueled by visions of integrating this rapidly developing technology with an increasing range of business and technology processes. Autonomous vehicles continue to be a driving force. Meanwhile, globalization issues may drive companies to hedge their bets, particularly in China and India. The last large acquisition, Intel’s purchase of Mobileye, split research between Silicon Valley and Israel. (Car Wars: Intel Bags Mobileye).