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Baidu unveils AI chip to go in its fancy-pants robocar – and anywhere else someone may want to use it

Second-gen silicon to be more accessible for devs and applications

Baidu, China's biggest search engine company, says it has started making an AI chip that will enable applications ranging from cloud services to autonomous cars.

The 7nm process Kunlun II, announced yesterday at the annual Baidu World conference, has a max power consumption of 120W, and is claimed to be two to three times faster than its predecessor.

Baidu will both use the chip in-house and sell it to others. A canned statement said Kunlun II can be applied in multiple scenarios – cloud, terminal, and edge – for a range of uses like biocomputing and intelligent transportation. Not to mention, of course, a main feature of the conference: autonomous driving.

"Specifically optimized for AI technologies such as voice, natural language processing and images, the new Kunlun chip supports deep learning frameworks such as Baidu's open-source platform PaddlePaddle," read the statement, adding: "This diverse range of uses gives the 2nd generation Kunlun AI chip a powerful potential role in powering AI applications ranging from internet core algorithms to smart cities and smart industry."

The company also said it was "increasingly important to lower the threshold for different real-world applications and to increase accessibility to AI development platforms."

The technology is likely to make Beijing happy, given China's push to make chips domestically while navigating a global shortage and US sanctions.

The event's other big star was an automated robocar equipped with the new silicon and L5 autonomous driving. Ultimately still controlled from the cloud by a human, the robocars are marketed less as a robot and more as a "friend" who learns all of a user's preferences and communicates smoothly.

No timeline or delivery price was mentioned for this futuristic mobility service/friend.

The conference was held the week after Q2 results revealed 71 per cent year-on-year growth for Baidu's AI cloud. Overall year-on-year company-wide growth was 20 per cent.

Curiously, Baidu filed with the United States' Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to sell senior notes last week.

Yesterday it announced the price of its public offering of $1bn, consisting of $300m in 1.625 per cent notes due 2027 and $700m in 2.375 per cent notes due 2031.

The company announcement said it intends to use the net proceeds from the offering for general corporate purposes – including repayment of debt and to finance existing projects. ®

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