On Monday, Baidu announced the launch of its Augmented Reality (AR) Lab with Baidu’s Institute of Deep Learning deputy director Zhongqin Wu appointed as head of the new lab. The opening of the AR research lab is the tech giant’s latest move to be at the top of its AR game. So what does this mean to Baidu and the AR industry? Here are five facts you need to know about Baidu’s AR developments.

Smartphone-based approach

Virtual Reality headsets can be categorized into several forms: from the bulky and expensive HTC Vive to the more affordable but less immersive cardboard sets that are used with your mobile phones. AR uses a similar approach.

In contrast to Microsoft’s fancy, cutting-edge HoloLens, Baidu’s AR Lab focuses on smartphone-based AR experience which will attract users looking for an AR experience but are unable to afford AR headsets that can cost up to several thousand dollars each.

“Our smartphone-based approach has enabled us to deliver AR experiences to a significant number of users in a very short amount of time,” said Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist of Baidu. Ng heads Baidu Research, the company’s research arm.

Andrew Ng
Zhongqin Wu (left) and Andrew Ng

It first started as a marketing tool

In August 2016, Baidu launched an AR platform for smartphones and built a range of AR-based marketing and advertising solutions for brands including L’Oreal China, KFC China and Lancôme.

Expanding beyond AR’s function as a marketing tool, the team recently launched a project to “revive” Beijing’s nine city gates which functioned as the city’s military defense and aided with the transportation of food supplies in ancient times.

To “see” the city gates of the past, you need to open the Baidu mobile phone app and take a photo of the gate in real-time location. Then, you can view the scene of the ancient gates on your mobile phone.

“AR allows us to connect the virtual world with the real world, and will transform how we perceive our surroundings,” said Zhongqin Wu, Head of Baidu’s new AR Lab.

“We’ve already seen rapid growth in AR marketing, and expect other industries to follow.”

baidu ar

AR Lab is Baidu Research’s fourth established lab

AR Lab is the fourth lab established by Baidu Research.

Over the past few years, Baidu Research has set up three institutes and labs to research into new technology trends – the Silicon Valley Artificial Intelligence Lab, Institute for Deep Learning, and Big Data Lab.

“If there is an obvious opportunity for us and the demand for that technology is global. And if we see a chance that it will change people’s lives, we will consider setting up a lab,” said Ng.

AI is the core technology for AR

Ng believes AI is the core of AR. AR is currently based on image recognition technology, SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), and face recognition. In future, AR technology will be determined by voice recognition and real-time translation.

Baidu has placed a lot of importance on AI. The Chinese company appointed former Microsoft Corp. executive Dr. Qi Lu as Baidu’s Group President and COO.

At the appointment, Baidu’s Chairman and Group CEO Robin Li said that “artificial intelligence is a key strategic focus for us over the next decade” and that they will “continue to bring the best talents around the world onboard”.

Differences in China and America’s AR development

“Actually, I feel that AR is an especially complicated technology,” said Ng. “The development of AR is faster in China than in the United States.

The reason for that, Ng explained, is that a lot of Americans are used to using PCs before starting to use mobile phones. So that is why a lot of mobile phone innovation will be first seen or developed in China.

Companies in the United States mainly focus on hardware, but many of their Chinese counterparts focus on developing mobile technology and applications.

(All photos from Baidu)

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Heather Wang
Heather is a writer at ACT. She is passionate about literature, photography and technology. She graduated from Shanghai University of International Business and Economics with a Master's Degree. Write to her: heather[at]allchinatech.com

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