US chipmaker Qualcomm has announced the establishment of an artificial intelligence department in Beijing called The Qualcomm AI Lab.

The company also made a separate announcement about its deal with Baidu’s PaddlePaddle on the same day, May 23. Qualcomm will work with Baidu to use the Qualcomm AI Engine to drive conversion and application of Baidu PaddlePaddle open-source deep learning framework models on Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile platforms. PaddlePaddle is Baidu’s answer to Google’s deep learning framework Tensorflow.

The news comes at a sensitive time for the US chipmaker. Both the Chinese and the US government are negotiating about the fate of Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer ZTE which is currently banned from purchasing equipment from US companies.

Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm, said in an interview published May 23 that it is confident in the company’s future since the technology it creates is relevant to US, China, and EU regardless of near-term political decisions.

However, Qualcomm is facing another hurdle due to the prolonged trade talks between China and US. Recently, Trump administration blocked the take-over of Qualcomm by Singapore-based Broadcom over national security concerns. The company has been planning to purchase Dutch chipmaker NXP Semiconductors to expand its wireless chip business to encompass more internet of things applications, especially in the automotive space. However China has requested a review of the takeover. Qualcomm’s offer to buy NXP expires July 25, it will probably be extended once more.

Qualcomm has been researching AI technologies for quite some time. In 2007, the company started exploring machine learning for computer vision and motion control applications. Later it expanded to artificial neural networks, primarily deep learning. Aside from developing chips, Qualcomm has also invested in BrainCorp, a company developing software for autonomous commercial robots and acquired Amsterdam-based AI company Scyfer.

Updated 25 May 2018 to correct factual errors about the Qualcomm takeover of NXP.

Masha Borak is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Write to her at masha.borak [at] Pitches with the word "disruptive" will be ignored. Read a good book - learn some more adjectives.

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