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Tencent to step up AI-related efforts

By He Wei in Chengdu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-10 08:12

Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd said on Wednesday that it would continue to make all-out efforts to reinforce the development of artificial intelligence-powered smart vehicles, which could eventually pave the way for its entry into the autonomous driving segment.

The company unveiled an AI-backed system that allows automakers to produce cars capable of calculating the best route, order meals and find parking lots with minimum human intervention at the ongoing Tencent Global Partner Conference.

Such new features will probably debut in the next lineups of a clutch of industry players, including GAC Group, BYD Co and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co, which will bank on Tencent's computing capabilities and vast resources from mapping, payment to social networks, said Zhang Tong, head of Tencent's AI Lab.

The announcement came amid speculations that Tencent has already developed its own autonomous driving system, which was reported by Bloomberg News earlier this week citing an insider.

Zhang declined to confirm the news on the sidelines of the conference. But in August, Chen Juhong, a vice-president of Tencent, said the firm would support the research for self-driving and facilitate the manufacturing of related products.

Tencent's ambition in intelligent driving is exemplified by its stakes in US electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc, as well as two EV startups Nio and Weltmeister, which are viewed as China's answers to Tesla.

Together with search engine Baidu Inc, Tencent is leading Weltmeister's latest 1 billion yuan ($151 million) funding, China Business Network reported on Thursday. Tencent declined to comment.

Such a development would pit it squarely against Baidu's billion-dollar investment in AI and auto driving research, as well as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, whose collaboration with SAIC Motor Co involves the adoption of its YunOS operating system across a select number of internet-connected cars.

Tencent is aggressively exploring the potential of AI by expanding its application scenarios with the aid of partners. It rolled out a plan to incubate 100 startups that can use its AI clout and other technological and commercial resources.

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