China accelerates self-drive ambitions
At the end of last month graphics giant Nvidia and Chinese search company Baidu announced a partnership in which the American-based chip maker will provide its artificial intelligence self-driving computing platform alongside Baidu’s cloud and mapping technology to design and build a self-driving car from scratch.
China, currently, trails the US in terms of automotive technology, but it has already surpassed it and Japan in production output. The People’s Republic produces twice as many cars as the US and now has an automotive industry larger than that of both the US and Japan combined.
Enter the Nvidia Drive PX 2, a palm-sized computer for autonomous cars that will enable point to point and highway travel by integrating the use of cloud based maps and navigation technology. It runs on a six-core Tegra CPU and a Pascal-based graphics processor which will operate to combine computing power and algorithms to help cars navigate, avoid obstacles, self-park and recognize signals, signs and road lanes. The graphics processing horsepower will be utilized to take incoming data from sensors and apply deep neural networks to produce a complex picture of objects around a vehicle.
“We’re going to bring together the technical capabilities and the expertise in AI and the scale of two world-class AI companies to build the self-driving car architecture from end-to-end, from top-to-bottom, from the cloud to the car,” stated Nvidia Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang at the Baidu World Conference in Beijing last month.
The move could allow Baidu to expand beyond China, where it is currently the dominant search and cloud services provider. It has the same influence within the country as Google does over the rest of the world, however the visions are the same; one day we’ll all be driven around in autonomous vehicles whilst being subjected to entertainment, company products and advertising streamed from its servers in the cloud.
Nvidia are already working with Volvo, Audi, Ford and BMW on autonomous driving technologies, however, that inexorable Chinese drive and ambition could see them leading the race for the next few years.
All the fuss this week has been about another new iPhone launch and more dollars going back to company shareholders when users need to shell out on expensive wireless headphones if they want to listen to music on their coveted new devices. However, greater issues may be afoot in India where tech companies including Apple and Google are likely to resist a move by the government to force them to use state-developed encryption.
The initiative is tied into a national biometric identity program called Aadhaar, Hindi for foundation, which currently has millions of people using fingerprint and retina scanning technology to access a range of public and private services. Executives from Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung were invited to India a few weeks ago by the government to discuss embedding the technology into their products. No comments were made on the meetings and Apple, who are still hampered from opening their own stores in India, didn’t even show up.
The concerns are somewhat justified; once Aadhaar is accessed, possibly through a dedicated app, its own security and encryption protocols take over which would effectively lock out manufacturer’s safeguards. The government, however, has a more benevolent stance claiming that it was designed in part to help thwart criminals who siphon off billions of dollars in welfare payments each year. According to a Bloomberg report, Aadhaar helps authenticate millions of poor citizens so the government can send money in lieu of food, fuel and fertilizer subsidies, as well as pension and guaranteed work payments directly to their bank accounts electronically.
India has taken the system a long way since its inception in 2010 when it began collecting citizens’ bio-metric and demographic data and storing it in a centralized database. Aadhaar is the largest system of its kind in the world: as of April this year over a billion people had signed up, roughly 83 percent of the population.
Tech companies, who also like to maintain control over their ecosystems and user data, may face increasing hurdles in India, who at the moment have only asked for consideration of their encryption system. The only global manufacturer who has complied and is producing an Aadhaar friendly device in India is Samsung. Microsoft is reportedly in discussions with the government and the likelihood of Apple and Google playing ball is slim at best.
India is not the only a country where these two tech behemoths are under scrutiny, Japan has released a report accusing the pair of violating the country’s anti-monopoly practices. According to the Nikkei Asia Review, Apple and Google engage in practices that undermine competition in the smartphone app market by making the most of their control over distribution channels. Japan’s competition watchdog intends to investigate further and “may choose to conduct on-site inspections if there is sufficient suspicion of regulation breach,” a high-ranking official said.