Volkswagen Reportedly Acquires Huawei’s Self-driving Unit; Alibaba & Tencent Back Dram Maker; Bilibili AI Makes Old Anime Look Better
Weekly China AI News on February 21
Dear readers, I wanted to thank you for your subscription and support to Recode China AI. We have decided to make the following changes in the future issues:
- The newsletter will begin with “News of the Week” to quickly recap the biggest AI stories of the past seven days in China, followed by “Trending Projects”, “Rising Startups” and “Rest of the World”.
- We will feast your eyes on the most interesting, worth-reading stories and research that you should never miss!!
- Hope you will like these changes. Let’s GO!!!
News of the Week
Will Volkswagen Buy Huawei’s Self-Driving Unit? No comment
European auto giant Volkswagen is in talks with the US-banned Chinese telecomm giant Huawei to acquire its autonomous driving unit for billions of euros, a bombshell first reported by a German media outlet.
In response to the report, Huawei and Volkswagen China provide no comments — instead of denial — indicating the ongoing acquisition deal is not groundless.
700 vs 2000: According to the media, “Volkswagen is considering acquiring a unit of Chinese tech group Huawei that specializes in autonomous driving….The Huawei subsidiary employs 700 people, including around 50 specialists.” However, Huawei’s automotive business unit employs over 5,000 people, 2,000 of them working on autonomous driving only, according to Huawei. So Huawei is likely to sell part of its autonomous driving team to Volkswagen.
Last November, Huawei was reportedly planning to create a joint venture with Volkswagen to develop autonomous driving technology, but the Chinese tech giant quickly denied the news. In 2018, Huawei and Audi, the leading premium brand of Volkswagen, unveiled a joint innovation in L4 autonomous driving.
Not making cars! Huawei has publicly reiterated dozens of times that it will make cars on its own. Instead, the company will position itself as a Tier-1 supply by offering batter management system (BMS), smart cockpit, autonomous driving, the well-known Harmony operating system, and other software to OEMs.
Baidu Brings Trial Robotaxi Operation to Shenzhen’s Most Populous district
It’s Baidu again! The Chinese search engine-turned-AI leader is expanding its robotaxi service to Shenzhen’s Nanshan District, a densely populated area with 1.79 million residents. Shenzhen is the seventh city where Baidu has introduced its robotaxi ride services in China, following Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Changsha, and Cangzhou. With that being said, Baidu’s robotaxi is now available in all of China’s tier-1 cities.
No fees, drivers inside: Baidu’s autonomous driving service Apollo Go will be open to the public so users can hail a ride using the app and wait for pick up at one of approximately 50 stations, with daily operating hours from 9 am to 5 pm. The trial operation is free right now and safety drivers are still required to be seated behind the wheel, in compliance with the local regulation.
Watch out, AutoX and DeepRoute: Besides tech behemoths like Tencent and Huawei, Shenzhen is also home to 800 autonomous driving startups, including DeepRoute and AutoX. DeepRoute has raised $300 million from Alibaba and Dongfeng Motor last year and launched its trial operation in Shenzhen’s Fushan District last September. AutoX, also backed by Alibaba and Dongfeng Motors, has demonstrated driverless robotaxis in Shenzhen’s Pingshan District, a suburban area where Chinese EV giant BYD is headquartered.
Tencent and Alibaba Take Stakes in Chinese Dram Maker
Changxin Memory Technologies (CXMT) is a Chinese semiconductor foundry headquartered in Hefei, Anhui specializing in the production of DRAM memory. Recently, Chinese media noted Tencent and Alibaba have quietly become shareholders of the six-year-old DRAM maker.
So why are Alibaba and Tencent interested in CSMT? Dram, which stands for dynamic random-access memory, is a type of RAM widely in digital electronics where low-cost and high-capacity memory is required. Digitimes reported that the overall market demand for DRAM is forecast to increase 15–20%, driven by cloud servers and data centers. DRAM is expected to grow beyond personal devices and be more widely used in the cloud, servers, and automotive applications.
According to a Forbes article, Changxin Memory Technologies currently provides LPDDR4 DRAM used in low-end mobile phones and DDR4 used in PC memory modules. The company is critical to China’s tech independence plan despite its memory capacity output of about 1.4% of the worldwide industry and only a 7% penetration of the Chinese DRAM market. The global DRAM market is dominated by Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron.
Papers & Projects
Huawei’s AI research center Noah’s Ark Lab has introduced a large-scale multi-modal Chinese dataset named Noah-Wukong. The dataset contains 100 million image-text pairs. Huawei said the dataset will serve as a benchmark for different cross-modal learning methods. You can read the paper for more details and download the dataset here.
Bilibili, the most popular video streaming site in China, has open-sourced an AI model for anime image super-resolution, named Real-CUGAN. Using the same architecture as Waifu2x-CUNet and trained on millions of anime images, Real-CUGAN can support 2x\3x\4x super-resolution. You can find the project on GitHub.
Researchers from Zhejiang University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Chongqing University, and RIKEN have proposed a framework called PiCO to address two research challenges in partial label learning (PPL). PPL is a very important classification task in which each training example is associated with multiple labels while only one of them is correct. This is very common in real-world data annotation due to label ambiguity and noise. You can read the paper here and find the project on GitHub.
Binli, a smart electric vehicle company, has raised over RMB10 billion yuan ($1.57 billion) in a strategic investment from Wuhan-based Changjiang Capital. Founded by former Volkswagen China Executive Vice President in 2021, the Beijing-based company will introduce its first electric vehicle model to challenge Porche Taycan and unveil a vehicle brand named BeyonCa.
InnoScience, a semiconductor wafer and chips manufacturer, has raised almost RMB3 billion yuan ($472 million) in its Series D funding. Founded in 2015, the Guangdong-based company positions itself as the largest 8-inch Integrated Device Manufacturer (IDM) fully focused on GaN technology in the world. You can find more about the company here
G7, a software service provider in China’s road freight industry, has raised $200 million led by Trustbridge Partners and CS Capital. Founded in 2010, the Beijing-based company offers logistics companies and drivers IoT subscription solutions, which include location data, route optimization, fuel consumption, and cargo status (temperature, humidity, etc). You can find more about the company here.
Rest of the World
DeepMind is continuing its streak of AI in Science research by introducing a deep reinforcement learning architecture for nuclear fusion plasma control. Simply speaking, nuclear fusion as a sustainable energy source needs a so-called tokamak device surrounded by magnetic coils to contain the superheated plasma. DeepMind has collaborated with the Swiss Plasma Center at EPFL using AI to self-learn how to control plasma. Read the paper published in Nature and the DeepMind blog for more.
As South Korea’s presidential election looms, the team from South Korean presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol from the main opposition party built an AI avatar, named “AI Yoon”, to join the campaign, engage young voters, and answer questions automatically. Read the news story from SCMP here.
Next time you see a woman flirting with you, think twice about her real identity: human or AI. An AI voice startup called Sonantic says its audio technology can now synthesize a voice in a teasing or flirting tone. Watch the video yourself.