Baidu’s Big AI Rollout Includes a Partnership With Intel

BEIJING, CHINA – AI is well known as a hot area of innovation from the likes of Google, IBM, Microsoft and – Baidu? You may not have heard of the Chinese tech giant but it’s starting to make waves across a range of product areas including advanced chips, robotics, autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence.

At its annual Baidu Create conference here, Baidu announced a partnership with Intel, an advanced chip architecture of its own design and a new version 3.0 of its Baidu Brain AI software.

As part of the Intel partnership, Baidu announced Xeye, a new camera designed to help retailers offer a more personalized shopping experience. The camera uses Baidu’s advanced machine learning algorithms to analyze objects and gestures as well as detect people in the store. It also leverages Intel’s Movidius vision processing units (VPUs) to give retailers low-power, high performance “visual intelligence” as to products and activity in the store.

Separately, Baidu is improving machine vision performance via its EasyDL, an easy-to-use “code free” platform designed to let users build custom computer vision models with a simple drag-and-drop interface. Released in November as part of Baidu Brain 2.0, EasyDL applications are being used by 160 grocery stores in the U.S. including Price Chopper. The computer vision application recognizes items left in a customer’s shopping cart by mistake to help ensure that they’re purchased.

The newer Baidu Brain 3.0 makes it easier and quicker to train a computer vision model using EasyDL so, for example, the application designed for the grocery cart can now be developed in as little as 15 minutes.

In addition to Xeye, Baidu also announced it will use Intel’s FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) to enable workload acceleration as a service on the Baidu Cloud. “The best is yet to come. We are excited to see the innovative Baidu Brain running on Intel Xeon processors,” said Gadi Singer, general manager of Intel’s AI Products Group who joined Baidu CEO Robin Li on stage.

But Baidu has big chip plans in its own right. During his keynote, Li announced Kunlun, China’s first cloud-to-edge AI chip, designed for high performance AI scenarios. Li said Kunlun will be marketed for use in data centers, public clouds and autonomous vehicles.

Baidu started developing an FPGA-based AI accelerator for deep learning in 2011 and began using GPUs in datacenters. Kunlun, which is made up of thousands of small cores, has a computational capability which is nearly 30 times faster than the original FPGA-based accelerator.

And while the initial market for Kunlun will be China, Technalysis Research analyst Bob O’Donnell said enterprises across the globe would be wise to be aware of Baidu’s growing product portfolio.

“Baidu is a key player for multinational corporations with a presence in China because they’re driving innovation in the same way that Amazon or Google is in the U.S.,” said O’Donnell. “They have an incredibly strong focus on AI across a lot of different industries that’s as broad as any other company I know of. Right now they’re very China-focused, but I expect that to expand over time.”

Chip rivals like Nvidia have made huge strides in support of autonomous vehicles with both hardware and software frameworks and simulation software for testing designed to help car makers get vehicles to market.

Similarly, Baidu has made a big investment in its Apollo software for autonomous vehicles of all sizes, from automated wheelchairs to cars, buses, trucks and other transport vehicles. At Create it showed off the new Apollo 3.0 software that is just starting to be used in autonomous vehicles in campuses and other closed environments in China such as senior living communities.

“We are really excited, this will surely change everyone’s lives,” said Li, who announced the 100th autonomous buses had recently come off the assembly line.

“You can see this is a real automatic driving solution, there’s no steering wheel, brake pedal or throttle, but it’s also very stylish inside,” said Li.

The vehicles are planned for commercial use in both China and Japan.

Analyst O’Donnell said it looks like Baidu’s autonomous vehicle effort is focused on the Asian market for at least the near term. “But they’re really establishing some important benchmarks here with the breadth of what they’re doing that competitors are sure to take note of.”

I Know What The Next Hit Product from Apple Is

It’s been four years since Apple released the first iPad and tech watchers are getting restless. When will Apple release another hit product? Where’s the Apple TV? Where’s the iWatch? Has the company lost its nerve post-Steve Jobs?

Don’t worry, Tim Cook & Company haven’t lost their nerve. It’s just taking longer than expected to finish the next insanely great iProduct.

The funny thing is all the supposed insiders have it wrong. It’s not an iWatch or an Apple TV. And the recently introduced CarPlay? Please. That’s something Apple slapped together that actually runs on software owned by BlackBerry. It was created to literally drive us to distraction from what Cupertino’s really up to.

What is that? My source at Apple has begged me to keep quiet, but it’s going to come out at some point (perhaps as soon as this week’s WWDC), so you might as well hear it from me.

Inspired by Steve Jobs
The famed R&D labs at Apple have been able to recreate the thing that made Steve Jobs such a force to be reckoned with. That’s right, Apple can now replicate the same kind of Reality Distortion Field (RDF) Steve Jobs made famous – his ability to convince anyone that anything Apple did was the best thing ever created.

The geniuses at Apple have been able to digitize the essential RDF elements and cram all the electronics into a wearable device. The early prototypes show promise. The so-called iAmulet is not only solar powered, it’s waterproof. In early tests users were able, for example, to convince people deathly afraid of the water to jump in and take a swim.

The trouble with solar though is it’s no good indoors. So for example, an Apple tech was able to convince a test subject enjoying a stroll in the park he had to immediately go to the Apple Store and buy an iPad. But once inside, the reality distortion field wore off and he became so disoriented he went to the nearest Best Buy and bought a Surface RT tablet out of the remainders bin.

So Apple still has some work to do. I hear one thing they are considering is to make all the Apple Stores open air and let the sun shine in so sales reps wearing the iAmulet will have no problem convincing customers to buy even the most expensive Mac.

What’s Next?
Don’t think for a minute Apple will own the reality distortion market. Already there are competitors.

A group of former employees at Jobs’ old company, NeXT, have formed a startup called NextNext that’s working on a consumer-oriented wearable. Powered by the company’s breakthrough Reality Show Distortion Field software, the NextStrip provides a drug free solution to depression and feelings of ennui.

“Just like the stars of Reality TV shows, the NextStrip makes you feel like every trivial thing you say is of importance to millions of people,” NextNext founder Wynot Newton told me.

The best part is the NextStrip is easy to wear and unobtrusive. The moisture-powered NextStrip uses a Velcro lining to cling to the inside of your undergarments and gently vibrates providing an added weight loss feature.

“This is not just technology for technology’s sake,” says Newton. “We think there’s a real need in the marketplace for something like this.”

I could not tell if Newton was wearing a NextStrip when he said this.

Hope you enjoyed a little weekend humor.