Since appointing the former Microsoft executive Lu Qi as the new Chief Operating Officer and Vice Chairman, Baidu has reshuffled its senior management team and company structure to focus more on artificial intelligence.

Baidu's new COO Qi Lu - image by Microsoft
Baidu’s new COO Lu Qi

One of the changes sees the former Vice Chairman Wang Jing, who has been leading Baidu’s autonomous car unit, put on hiatus. The autonomous car operations have been folded into the newly formed Intelligent Driving Group or IDG, which includes Baidu’s autonomous car, intelligent car, and connected car units. COO Lu Qi now heads this division. Other than autonomous car technology, the internet giant has also committed to a US $100 million investment in electric car maker NextEV.

According to an internal staff memo obtained by Caixin (in Chinese), Baidu regards autonomous and connected car technology and high accuracy mapping as two of the key drivers in the upgrade of traditional industries by artificial intelligence. This area is also an important strategic business and core competency for Baidu.

Baidu’s other attempts to strengthen its artificial intelligence capabilities include expanding the voice assistant Dumi (度秘, short for Baidu Secretary) team into a larger department and ramping up Baidu Ventures to invest even more in artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality businesses.

Baidu’s mobile medical division has been dissolved in another restructuring move. This division worked with hospital clients on O2O services such as online appointment booking. In 2016, Baidu faced criticism over paid medical ad placement in its search results. The staff members who worked in the mobile media division either transferred to other departments or were let go.

The first Baidu acquisition guided by Lu Qi was Raven Tech, which designs and manufactures smart home equipment that combines artificial intelligence and hardware.

“[This] will help Baidu to construct an artificial intelligence ecology,” said Lu Qi in an internal staff memo about the acquisition (in Chinese).

After a turbulent 2016 when the unethical advertising scandal hit the company hard (Q4 2016 sales decreased by 2.6% compared to the same time last year), Baidu seems to be determined to head in a new direction. Lu Qi might just be the man to help achieve the turnaround.

Linda Lew is a Beijing-based journalist who covers technology, start-ups and business in China. You can reach her at lindalew at aliyun dot com.