China’s largest carmaker SAIC Motor launches its own AI lab

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Chinese multinational carmaker SAIC Motor (上汽集团) has launched its own AI lab, according to The Paper.

The Shanghai-headquartered SAIC Motor is reportedly the first domestic automaker to establish an AI lab. The new lab will focus on research and development, as well as real-world AI solutions in three fundamental areas—cloud computing, big data and business applications—with the ambition to push forward smart transport, smart manufacturing, and intelligent driving. The AI solutions will be adopted across businesses under the SAIC Motor umbrella, such as rental service and logistics. The company also plans on using AI to improve the efficiency of its car manufacturing.

SAIC Motors deputy chief engineer Zu Sijie stressed that the company plans to take advantage of innovative applications of AI as they emerge. “We believe that artificial intelligence is the next step for the auto industry,” he’s quoted as saying, adding that the AI lab is of strategic importance on the investment side of things.  Zu revealed that SAIC Motor has not put a cap on the amount of investment that it plans to put into AI research and development.

As of now, SAIC Motor’s AI lab is a team of nearly 70 people. The company plans to collaborate with academia on research projects and will set up a separate technology company to work in tandem with the AI lab in the near future. The lab will provide technology support for SAIC Motor, and the tech venture will focus on the commercialization of AI technology.

China internet giants including the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) have been eager to bolster AI capabilities. Instead of drawing support from China-born internet giants, SAIC Motor decided to set up its own team. “We realized it was difficult because [internet companies] are not familiar with our industry,” Zu said.

The establishment of the AI lab has been a long time coming. The company established a cloud computing and big data business units two years ago, paving the way for the AI lab.

SAIC Motor is one of the Big Four state-owned automakers in China. In 2014, it topped the chart as the automaker with the most significant production volume in China, manufacturing more than 4.5 million vehicles a year.