Didi opens self-driving research lab in U.S., the global expansion is getting real

It’s no secret that Chinese ride-hailing behemoth Didi Chuxing is planning something big for overseas market, but as of present all of its moves are achieved through partnership and investment in regional players of these markets. The company has yet to build an offline existence beyond its home country. But the case won’t be long.

The firm, which acquired Uber’s China operations last year, today officially announced the launch of its first bricks-and-mortar office outside of China, dubbed DiDi Labs, in Mountain View, California.

Through a series of partnerships and investments, Didi has built a global ride-summoning network that’s covering every major player around the world, including Ola in India, Grab in Southeast AsiaLyft in the U.S., and 99 in Brazil. Given Uber is in competition with each and every of them in different regional markets, many jokingly referred this network as the “anti-Uber alliance”.

However, this latest move is of more strategic meaning than just gaining the upper hand. Focusing primarily on AI-based security and intelligent driving technologies, the new lab underlines the company’s efforts into a new field—self-driving. It’s worth to note that the lab’s Mountain View setting puts it in the backyard of leading self-driving companies as well as a pool of the world’s top talents.

Didi Labs will be led by Dr. Fengmin Gong, who became Vice President of Didi Research Institute after his company AssureSec was being acquired by Didi last year.

Dozens of leading data scientists and researchers have joined the team. Among them was Charlie Miller, who made his reputation as the world’s top automobile security experts in testing, in which he and Chris Valasek hacked remotely into the operating systems of a Jeep and took full control of the car.

The lab’s current projects span the areas of cloud-based security, deep learning, human-machine interaction, computer vision and imaging as well as intelligent driving technologies.

Meanwhile, Didi Labs will work in tandem with the broader Didi research network to advance its global strategy, apply research findings to products and services, and help cities develop smart transportation infrastructure. Didi expects to rapidly expand its US-based team of scientists and engineers over the course of the year, the company noted.

The launch of Didi Labs formalize the startup’s effort towards self-driving cars, but that’s only part of Didi’s plan to transform into the world’s leading mobile transportation platform. A source close to the company has told TechNode that Didi is also developing electric cars and they are looking to have more on the road in the future as a more economical and environmentally friendly option for drivers.

Cheng Wei, founder, Chairman and CEO of Didi Chuxing, said:

“Sweeping changes are taking place in the global transportation and automobile industries. As the world’s leading mobility platform, Didi has invested in five industry leaders around the world. Building on rich data and fast-evolving AI analytics, we will be working with cities and towns to build intelligent transportation ecosystems for the future.

As we strive to bring better services to broader communities, Didi’s international vision now extends to building the best-in-class international research network, advancing the global transportation revolution by leveraging innovative resources. The launch of Didi Labs is a landmark in creating this global nexus of innovation.”