Search engine giant Baidu has recently unveiled China’s first cloud-to-edge artificial intelligence (AI) chip --Kunlun -- at Baidu Create 2018. The move repositions the company in not only the Chinese market but also globally, says leading data and analytics company GlobalData.

Launched this month, Kunlun is China’s first cloud-to-edge AI chip, built to accommodate high performance requirements of a wide variety of AI scenarios. With this, Baidu joined the ranks of Google, Nvidia, Intel, and many other tech companies making processors especially for AI.

Additionally, Baidu also joins select few companies that not only offer an AI platform to help enterprises deploy AI-infused solutions but also have their own hardware to maximize AI processing. Built to accommodate the high performance requirements of a wide variety of AI scenarios, Kunlun includes training chip ‘818-300’ and inference chip ‘818-100’. It can be used to provide AI capabilities such as speech and text analytics, natural language processing, and visual recognition.

Rena Bhattacharyya, Technology Analyst at GlobalData, says: “Well-established players such as IBM, Microsoft, Google and Amazon are fine-tuning their AI platforms to make it easier and faster for customers to incorporate a wide range of AI technologies. Although already an ambitious player in China, Baidu had not managed to establish itself as a major force in the AI space until now. The Kunlun chip has the potential to change that.”

Kunlun canbe deployed in the cloud or at the edge, such as in autonomous vehicles, an area in which Chinese companies are allocating sizeable research and development funds. But edge deployments of AI do not stop there. On-device AI is used in mobile phone cameras to improve picture quality, it can provide speech and voice recognition, and it may be used in security systems, drones or robots.

AI at the edge can increase efficiency since at least a portion of the analysis, if not all, can be performed without the need to transport data to and from the cloud. It also offers greater flexibility, because the device can utilize AI even when it is offline, and it can improve the user experience since the device can learn behavior patterns. Some users may prefer it since data stays on the device instead of being transmitted over a network to the cloud.

Bhattacharyya concludes: “Baidu does not market heavily to other regions and will have a tough time competing with the well-established players. Nonetheless, the release of the new chipset underscores the overall momentum behind AI in China, as well as the determination of Chinese players to establish themselves as global leaders in this emerging area.”

Kunlun leverages Baidu’s AI ecosystem, which includes AI scenarios like search ranking and deep learning frameworks like PaddlePaddle, which is a deep learning platform code-named after Parallel Distributed Deep Learning. Baidu made it open source in September 2016.

Additionally, in April 2017 the company also announced its open source autonomous driving project, Apollo, an open platform that provides open software stack, cloud infrastructure, and other services that are able to support major features and functions of an autonomous car. For this, Baidu has also joined hands with Microsoft to power the former's open source self-driving project outside China.

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