Worldwide

#digitalization

AI in series

Tags: Autonomous Driving
Working with strong partners on artificial intelligence for autonomous driving: ZF is putting test vehicles on the road along with the Chinese tech company Baidu.
Friederike Pater, July 24, 2018
author_image
Friederike Pater studied journalism and writes – not only about the automotive – tech trends of tomorrow. On her travels she collects impressions from all over the world and gets inspired to new stories.
Major Chinese corporations are working intensely on the technologies of tomorrow. And a focus is on artificial intelligence (AI). The Chinese technology company Baidu and ZF are working together to accelerate the development of autonomous driving technologies.

Four facts about China

Slowly but surely, the taxi carves its way through the maze of cars, mopeds, and buses in stop-and-go traffic. The taxi driver is at ease in the chaotic traffic. At a red light, he quickly sends a few text messages on his smartphone. His display shows a smiling girl waving at him. Before the light turns green, the driver winks back at his daughter as his e-taxi silently accelerates.
The taxi passes miles of factory buildings and giant warehouses, and it is hard to believe that just 40 years ago the city of Shenzhen was still a sleepy fishing village just outside Hong Kong. Today, the cityscape is dominated by glass skyscrapers that press through a layer of smog in the sky. The buildings bear the names of Chinese technology giants: Huawei, Tencent, ZTE, Dingoo.

Old mopeds and smart robots

Old mopeds and smart robots

No other city demonstrates China's digital evolution as Shenzhen. It has become the heart of the nationwide digitalization overnight and is churning out technological innovations at a breathtaking pace. In Shenzhen, two worlds come together in the chaos of bright neon signs, overloaded mopeds, and colorful stands, forming a special ecosystem. While the usual hectic hustle and bustle of a Chinese metropolis can be felt on the streets, inside the buildings the brightest minds from around the world are working on the super fast 5G network, smart robots and autonomous driving.

Partners provide an insider look at the market

Partners provide an insider look at the market

ZF is already a part of this unique ecosystem. "Here in China, we march to the beat of a different drummer; everything has to be faster, higher, more advanced," said Qi Ping, head of development at ZF China. "It is fascinating to see how quickly ideas can turn into series products." The spirit of innovation, the fast pace, the unquenchable thirst for progress makes Chinese companies valuable partners. "By working with technology leaders such as Baidu or automotive manufacturers such as Chery, we gain deep insights into the market, which will determine the future of the global economy. China could soon be the most important market for us, and we are well prepared for this," says Qi.

Strong growth for artificial intelligence

Strong growth for artificial intelligence

One particular technology is drawing the attention of developers in Shenzhen and all over China. It is so important that it has even been given a major role in the national five-year plan: artificial intelligence (AI). The Chinese Government is sure that AI will shape the future.
A recent study by the market research company Gartner provides the figures to back up this claim: analysts at Gartner place the global business value of artificial intelligence in 2018 at 1.2 trillion US dollars, an increase of 70 percent compared to the previous year. Within the next four years, this value is expected to increase to 3.9 trillion US dollars according to forecasts.

What is AI?

Artificial intelligence is a buzzword and trending topic. But what does AI actually mean? What can it do today, and what will it be able to do in the future? An overview.

Huge amounts of data provide for ideal conditions

Huge amounts of data provide for ideal conditions

While the United States is considered to be the birthplace of artificial intelligence, another epicenter has emerged, and a very active one at that: China is seeking to close the gap with North America by 2025 and even become the market leader in just five years after that. This is not merely a declaration of intent but rather a decree from the government. A study by the auditing and consulting firm PwC shows the great importance AI will have for the Chinese economy. The PwC experts expect the gross domestic product in China will increase by more than a quarter, equivalent to seven trillion dollars, by 2030 from artificial intelligence alone. As a comparison: for North America, PwC predicts a GDP increase of about 15 percent, to 3.7 trillion US dollars.
But it is not only state subsidies and regulations that will push the development of AI. Due to its large population, China is also a huge source of data. This data provides artificial intelligence with a steady source of information. On top of this, the country can draw on concentrated knowledge of digitalization.

Technology giants conducting research in their own AI laboratories

Technology giants conducting research in their own AI laboratories

"Artificial intelligence is intriguing to me as it can be used in so many areas of life and can even improve it in certain aspects. Last but not least, it also offers solutions for the mobility of the future," explains Dr. Xing Yuan, General Manager of Series Production and Commercialization at Baidu. "Our goal is to promote AI technology and make it practical for everyday life."
Baidu has been a cooperation partner of ZF since 2017 and forms part of the three large "BAT" companies along with Alibaba and Tencent. In China, the BAT triumvirate represents a kind of digital parallel universe. Baidu, initially a search engine developer and operator, has become the Chinese equivalent of Google and Wikipedia. Today, Baidu is also the leading provider of high-definition (HD) maps. The online retailer Taobao can be considered as a kind of Chinese eBay and has developed into an Amazon-like e-commerce giant in no time. With WeChat, Tencent dominates the instant messaging services and is also a leader in the sector of online games in China. All three companies now have their own "AI Labs" in which they explore the universe of artificial intelligence.
3.9 billion
US dollars
This is the global value that artificial intelligence is expected to reach according to the market research company Gartner.

Focus on the use of AI in automobiles

Focus on the use of AI in automobiles

Meanwhile China is a trailblazer for alternative mobility concepts as proven by the on-going e-mobility boom. The government in Beijing has now set ambitious goals for the next great paradigm change in the auto industry: the country will seek to set its own standards for autonomous driving cars of the future. The government intends to use intelligent and connected vehicles to reduce the accident rate by 30 percent and emissions by 20 percent by 2025 as stated by China's biggest English-language newspaper "China Daily". By then, the speed limit for autonomous cars should already be 120 km/h.
"AI is a game changer, and autonomous driving is the future of mobility. And we want to be part of this from the outset," says Dr. Yuan, explaining Baidu's transformation into a company specializing in AI. "Autonomous driving presents the perfect challenge when it comes to the use of artificial intelligence. And we are focusing on the use of technology in the automotive sector. Our goal is to commercialize Al for series production."

On a common mission

On a common mission

With its high-definition maps, Baidu is already making a considerable contribution to autonomous driving. Modern sensor technology in special vehicles records the global road networks and provides the data for HD maps. The result is a realistic image of streets and surrounding areas. However, the entire traffic infrastructure cannot be updated on a daily basis.
In order to make progress, Baidu created an alliance. "Cooperation between a digitalization company such as Baidu and an established automotive supplier like ZF allows the strengths of each company to come to the fore, to the customers’ benefit," Dr. Yuan comments. "ZF is the perfect partner for us and offers an excellent product with its supercomputer ZF ProAI."
The ZF ProAI is an AI-enabled vehicle computer that can be configured differently depending on the use, available hardware and desired degree of automation. ZF ProAI was the first project on the basis of an additional cooperation – this time with software company NVIDIA.

Extremely accurate and always up-to-date

To make autonomous driving a reality, high-resolution maps need to take the roads’ fingerprint. But how will it be possible to scan all of the streets in the world?

Testing in safe mode

Testing in safe mode

The Chinese car-sharing operator Pand's electric vehicles are already being tested with the ZF-Baidu technology. Early in this year, some car makers already received licenses to conduct open road tests for their autonomous driving vehicles in designated areas in Shanghai and Beijing, complying with the cities' strict local regulations. Following Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou, Shenzhen's authority also announced the standards for smart driving on the way. But Shenzhen, for example, requires a driver and an additional security passenger to be in the vehicle for autonomous test drives. For the time being, however, we must still rely on the vigilance and composure of taxi drivers in the chaos of Chinese traffic.

In a nutshell: China is a master of digitalization. The country's large technology companies are working intensely on the topics of tomorrow to create innovations at a breathtaking pace. The focus is on one technology in particular: artificial intelligence, especially in autonomous driving. In order to push the development of autonomous driving concepts, ZF teamed up with Baidu. This happened shortly after September 2017 with Baidu's "Project Apollo" – an open development platform that can be used to quickly build up systems for autonomous driving.