This year, China’s reliance on foreign technology was once again brought into the spotlight. While the country first began to ruminate over its dependence on international tech in 2013, Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE has brought the discussion to the fore.
After the company was found to have violated US sanctions on Iran and North Korea, it was banned from sourcing components from American manufacturers, which provided the majority of its chips. The ban has subsequently been lifted, but the collective contemplation remains.
Chinese tech companies have now begun announcing a slew of homegrown chips. From Bytedance—the owner of popular content aggregator Jinri Toutiao—to Alibaba. the Chinese chip industry has seen rapid development.
The latter has now set up a subsidiary to focus on chips. Alibaba Group chief technology officer (CTO) Jeff Zhang made the announcement at the company’s Cloud Computing Conference in Hangzhou today (September 19).
In April, the Hangzhou-based tech giant announced its neural network chip, the Ali-NPU, to be used in AI applications, such as image video analysis and machine learning. The company said its chip would be ten times faster than mainstream AI chips based on CPU or GPU architecture. The company plans to release the chip next year.
The new subsidiary, called Pingtouge (平头哥), is being formed by the company’s research and development unit DAMO Academy and Alibaba-owned chipmaker C-SKY Microsystems (中天微), which it acquired shortly after announcing the Ali-NPU.
Zhang also mentioned Alibaba’s interest in working on a quantum computing lab as well as quantum chips. In February, Alibaba teamed up with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to launch a quantum computing service on the cloud offering ten qubits. The company is seeking to compete with local rival Baidu, as well as international competitors IBM, Google, Microsoft, and Intel.
Numerous other tech companies have joined the call to develop homegrown core technologies. Last month, appliance manufacturer Gree established a wholly-owned subsidiary focussing on chip development. The company said that the new subsidiary will be focusing on chip design for Gree’s key products such as air conditioners.
Rokid, a Hangzhou-based startup which specializes in robotics research and AI development, unveiled its voice-focussed Kamino18 AI chip earlier this year. The chip was in development for two years, and power consumption among equipped devices can be reduced by 30% to 50%, according to the company.
Nonetheless, Alibaba has made already made numerous investments in several chip companies, including China-based Cambricon (寒武纪), Kneron (耐能), ASR (翱捷科技), and DeePhi (深鉴), as well as California-based Barefoot Networks.