AI In China: How Uber Rival Didi Chuxing Uses Machine Learning To Revolutionize Transportation
2 July 2021
Chinese company, Didi Chuxing may be known by most as the world’s largest ride-sharing company with a goal “to build a better journey, ” but its vision reveals its future ambitions: “to become a global leader in the revolution in transportation and automotive technology.” With significant investment in artificial technology, Didi which means “beep beep” in Mandarin (like a car’s horn), is focused on staying ahead of the competition.
Didi’s Massive Operations
Harvard-educated Jean Liu, president of Didi Chuxing, is focused on growing the global footprint of the $56 billion-company that she leads. In China, the company has 550 million registered customers in more than 400 cities and delivers 30 million rides per day but its reach extends to Australia, Brazil, Japan and Mexico as well as Southeast Asia, India, Europe and Africa through various partnerships.
Didi employs 7,000 people, nearly half who are engineers and data scientists, and they continue to recruit other tech professionals to support its artificial intelligence labs, autonomous vehicles and other tech operations. On the Didi jobs page, Dr. Fengmin Gong, head of Didi Labs and Vice President of Didi Research Institute is quoted, “Our top priority is to continue to attract and retain the next generation of technology leaders from all backgrounds. We’re looking for brilliant, innovative minds to join us in solving some of the world’s toughest problems.”
The company currently has no rival in China; it battled Uber’s operations in China and won. Uber entered China in 2013, and the two companies poured billions into fighting one another for the country’s ride-share business until pressure from Uber’s investors to stop losses caused the company to agree to a deal where Uber China’s operations were absorbed by Didi in return for Uber getting an 18 percent stake in Didi.
Innovation to revolutionise the World’s Transportation and Automotive Technology
Didi was already a preferred tech investment for the likes of Alibaba, Tencent and Apple who collectively gave the company $13 billion as well as SoftBank, a Japanese tech conglomerate. In a new funding round that brought in an additional $4 billion, the company announced this new investment would be used for the company’s international expansion, artificial intelligence technology and green initiatives such as new energy vehicle networks.
In the quest to solve the world’s transportation challenges with smart traffic innovation, Didi has three artificial intelligence research centres, one in Silicon Valley and two in Beijing where research is done on natural language processing, computer vision and deep learning.
With the tremendous amount of data Didi collects every day, they are in a unique position to tackle traffic congestion and optimise navigation routes with AI technology. They launched the Didi Smart Transportation Brain that combines video camera and sensor data from Didi’s cars with data from the government and other partners. The objective is to create a city traffic management system powered by AI and cloud technology. The idea is that this will ultimately will result in smart traffic lights and monitoring systems that can be used in any metropolis with road congestion.
New technology to enhance the rider’s experience such as an app-based augmented reality (AR) navigation service that helps passengers find their way through buildings, malls and train stations to reach a vehicle pick-up location, illustrate Didi’s dedication to remaining the transportation leader. In cars, a voice-activated digital assistant offers a wide range of services including audio and video content as wells as locations for fuel, recharging or repair services.
This same spirit of transportation innovation drives Didi’s efforts in autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and redesigning vehicles for passengers who don’t need to drive. To ease the customer experience for passengers who use their apps in multiple countries, the company created a “roaming passport” when it launched in Japan that allowed them to use one app in any country they were in.
The company did experience a few bumps this past year from lacklustre financial reports to a shift to prioritise safety over growth that slowed down their ambitious goals. In response to safety concerns following the murder of a Didi passenger and the rape and murder of a second rider this year, Didi announced new security features. These include random biometric ID testing for drivers and SOS buttons within the Didi driver and passenger app that go directly to police rather than a Didi call centre.
And, since Uber China operations were absorbed in 2016, Didi hasn’t faced a competitor. That will soon change if Meituan-Dianping, China’s on-demand services provider, decides to move forward with its intentions to expand to the ride-sharing sector.
Didi Chuxing experienced meteoric influence since it was founded in 2012. If its leadership gets what it wants then the company could become as ubiquitous in the West as Amazon, Google and Facebook are today.
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