Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is accelerating its research and development of autonomous driving technology, and is looking to recruit more than 50 people to build up its team, people familiar with the matters told China Money Network.
The news comes a week after Alibaba’s rival Tencent Holdings Ltd. set up a joint venture with Chinese automobile manufacturer Changan Automobile Co., Ltd. to jointly develop autonomous driving technologies and connected vehicle platforms.
Wang Gang, chief scientist of Alibaba’s AI Lab, is heading the development of Level 4 technologies, or fully autonomous driving with minimal human intervention. Alibaba is using Lincoln MKZ cars for its tests, the same platform that Nvidia and Baidu Inc. utilize for their autonomous driving tests.
Alibaba started developing automotive operating systems back in 2014 and debuted a new Internet car it jointly developed with Chinese carmaker SAIC Motor Corporation in 2016. The pair also together established a RMB1 billion (US$140 million) Internet-of-Vehicles fund and set up an Internet-of-Vehicle sjoint venture in 2015.
Compared to Tencent and Baidu, Alibaba’s presence in the automotive industry is relatively weak. In January, Alibaba joined IDG Capital and Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn to lead a RMB2.2 billion (US$348 million) in a series B round in Chinese electric vehicle maker Xiaopeng Motors.
Tencent, on the other hand, has stakes in a number of Chinese EV stars. Tencent and Sequoia Capital China invested in Chinese EV firm WM Motor last December. Last November, Tencent reportedly led a US$1 billion round in NIO, a Shanghai-based electric vehicle company, after co-leading a US$600 million round with Baidu in the firm last March. Tencent also bought a 5% stake in U.S. electric vehicle market Tesla for US$1.78 billion last year.
Autonomous driving is one of Baidu’s focus areas for its artificial intelligence applications. It is aggressively pushing its Apollo autonomous driving platform, in addition to developing its own self-driving vehicles. Baidu previously said it plans to roll out a partially self-driving car by the second half of 2019 with its new partner, Chinese state-owned car maker Anhui Jianghuai Automobile (JAC).