Mercedes and BMW among those striking deals with IT companies to integrate latest features into vehicles
As global carmakers transform into intelligent mobility service platforms, more deals with Chinese IT companies were launched to promote localization and better serve customers in the world's largest auto market.
The latest cooperation is between Mercedes-Benz's passenger vehicle Chinese R&D center and IT giant Xiaomi. They are working to build the XiaoAi voice system into its vehicles, Sina Finance reported on Wednesday.
At the CES Asia show in Shanghai early this month, the carmaker showcased the Mercedes-Benz User Experience Infotainment System. It allows drivers to control appliances back home through verbal instructions, such as turning on a sweeping robot or the air conditioning.
Another German auto giant, BMW, reached a deal with leading Chinese IT company Alibaba early this year at the CES in Las Vegas, United States. They will integrate its intelligent voice assistant, Tmall Genie, into cars including the BMW 3-and 5-series range. The service will become available later this year.
Dieter May, former vice-president of BMW digital products and services, said that the cooperation marked a milestone of vehicle connectivity. This is because BMW is building a digital ecosystem in China.
With the integration of Tmall Genie and BMW, the carmaker will provide more convenient and quick services for Chinese customers.
This is not the only deal between Alibaba and carmakers.
Last year, Alibaba announced it would provide voice assistant services for Volvo, Daimler and Audi models.
The IT giant's mapping unit, Auto-Navi Software Co, also known as Gaode Map, and AliOS operating system will also launch projects with Audi, Lincoln, Jaguar Land Rover, Cadillac and Porsche.
Heinz-Willi Vassen, director of Audi China R&D, said that China is Audi's first market to feature the voice interactive system in cars. He said Chinese customers are more open and willing to try new technologies compared with other countries.
Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Automotive Foresight, holds similar views.
"Chinese customers have higher demands of intelligent appliances. After all, the average age of Chinese customers is more than 10 years younger than developed countries."
According to China Unicom, the number of Chinese users of V2X - vehicle to everything technology - will surpass 40 million by 2020. They are to account for more than 60 percent of the world's market. It is expected to be worth more than 200 billion yuan ($29.19 billion).
There is fierce competition between global IT companies in this market. In addition to Alibaba, Xiaomi and Baidu, world-leading IT companies Amazon and Google are providing vehicle connectivity technologies. Carmakers will prefer Chinese IT companies, who know more about Chinese customers and can satisfy their requirements, according to John Zeng, managing director of LMC Automotive Shanghai.
He said that there will be more partnerships between Chinese IT companies and global carmakers under the need of localization.
One example is NavInfo. The mapping service provider, based in Beijing, has become one of the most reliable partners of global carmakers in the Chinese market.
NavInfo has served more than 40 auto companies and it cooperated with BMW earlier this year to offer mapping and relevant services for its models in China from 2021 to 2024.
Chinese IT companies are in the front ranks in some technologies, such as Xiaomi playing a leading role in developing intelligent appliances and its voice interaction system, Zeng added.
Compared with foreign carmakers, Chinese auto brands are faster in the arena of intelligent mobility services and have launched deeper cooperation with IT companies than those with app-level projects, Zhang said.
SAIC Motor, China's largest carmaker by sales, released its Roewe RX5 SUV in 2016.
It is the first Chinese model to offer an internet-connected car. The model features an operating system of Banma network, which is codeveloped by SAIC and Alibaba.
Zhang said the relationship between carmakers and IT companies is a combination of competition and cooperation.
This is because carmakers will continue developing their own intelligent systems. Volkswagen announced on Tuesday that they plan to set up a car software department with 5,000 software engineers. It expects to improve the proportion of the software it develops from less than 10 percent currently to at least 60 percent by 2025.
A new subway train, which consists of six carriages and features cutting-edge carbon fiber technology, completed its first trial run in Qingdao, Shandong province, on Wednesday.
Dubbed the "subway train of the future," it represents the most advanced development of subway train manufacturing, and is expected to bring brand-new experiences to passengers, according to its developer CRRC Qingdao Sifang Co.
"It will be the trend for future subway trains to become lighter and energy-saving," said Ding Sansan, deputy chief engineer of CRRC Qingdao Sifang Co.
"The new generation of subway trains is 13 percent lighter than traditional ones, by adopting carbon fiber composite materials in many of its components including the main body, bogie frame, the driver's cabin and the equipment compartment."
"The hauling system uses a silicon carbide inverter and permanent magnet synchronous motor, which helps to reduce its energy consumption by 15 percent," Ding added.
Ding said that the new train will become smarter with its windows acting as touch panels, enabling passengers to surf the internet as well as watch videos and TV programs.
With a top speed of 140 kilometers per hour, much faster than traditional subway trains, it is driven fully automatically. With powerfully intelligent monitoring and warning systems, the new train can realize on-route fault early warning and immediately initiate repair work when needed, compared with planned repair work on traditional subway trains.
The new train also employs fully automatic suspension technology for the first time, which can control vibration in an optimum way.
"Thanks to new material which enables sound insulation and noise reduction, the noise within the passenger carriage is reduced by five decibels," Ding said.
"The new train has become more adaptable and can have flexible composition in terms of its carriage numbers, from two to 12, as passenger flow changes," said Ding.
"The flexibility aims to reduce cost and improve efficiency," added Ding.
Besides, the new train is also able to run in severe conditions, such as extremely hot or cold days, high altitude, small-radius curves and big ramps.
The train is expected to undergo track test in the near future, according to CRRC Qingdao. As the latest product, it has no orders so far.
In recent years CRRC Qingdao has made great efforts to tap overseas market potential. To date its products have been sold to 25 countries and regions worldwide.
China's 5G commercial use is the natural result of a favorable domestic market, policy support and fast development in the area, an expert cited by China Newsweek on Friday said as the country granted commercial licenses for 5G last week.
Zhou Jian, director of the Center for Information Research and Promotion with the China Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, said China has become a buyer's market compared to the past when it needed an exchange market for technologies. Market scale in terms of consumption and industry could also underpin rapid growth of technologies in emerging areas.
Last Thursday's issuance of 5G licenses to three network operators — China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom — and cable network company China Broadcasting Network has made the commercial use of the technology feasible at least half a year earlier, since the previous timetable given by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology showed the earliest start time in 2020.
Zhou said the race to build 5G among world economies bracing for an information revolution spurs China's plan to shift to an earlier date, given progress the country has made in the field.
In Zhou's opinion, the world is in an information revolution, which could change the basic model of global economic and social development, shake up industries and redesign the current international landscape.
The development of 5G is expected to generate 10.6 trillion yuan ($1.53 trillion) in economic output and over 3 million jobs between 2020 and 2025, if the technology is put into commercial use in 2020, as a previous report by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology forecast.
Nevertheless, concerns about the 5G construction costs still linger on.
China Newsweek cited data showing the three telecom carriers has spent at least 800 billion yuan in 4G network building by the end of 2017, and generally have not yet recovered the cost.
On the other hand, China Securities Co projected the number of 5G base stations will be twice as many as 4G's, and 5G's network investment could reach 1.23 trillion yuan, an increase of 68 percent from 4G.
Xiang Ligang, an observer of the Chinese telecommunication industry, told Newsweek he does not think cost will be big problem for operators.
"Operators are never at a loss — on the contrary, their revenue has been rising as they provide valuable services. So 5G will definitely bring them more advantage to expand financially and increase market share."
Data from the MIIT revealed operating revenue of the communication industry was 514.5 billion yuan, to which telecom services contributed 446.3 billion, a year-on-year increase of 0.7 percent.
Currently, no charging plan has been announced for 5G consumers, but several industry insiders said to China Newsweek 5G will be more affordable than 4G because 5G's application will improve efficiency through increased service frequencies.
Practices from 2G to 4G also prove the more advanced the technology is, the lower the charges for consumers, they added.
Shanghai will sharpen the focus and expand the scope of the second World Artificial Intelligence Conference as the city gears up to be the national center for the thriving technology.
The conference, which debuted last September, is scheduled to run from Aug 29 to 31 this year at two major venues alongside the Bund - the Expo Center and Xuhui Binjiang, Shanghai Vice-Mayor Wu Qing said at a media briefing on Tuesday.
Two summits on science and technology innovation and 10 industry panels will be held during the three-day event. Government officials, representatives of international organizations, top-notch scientists and business leaders are invited to share their insights on a variety of topics, from machine learning, chips and smart hardware to autonomous driving and 5G.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk will participate in the event, and tech guru companies like Alibaba, Tencent and Microsoft will be strategic partners of the conference.
There will be dedicated demonstration zones showcasing how AI can be applied to empower multiple industries, including education, healthcare, city management, industry, finance and commerce, he said.
"This is more than a cluster of AI demonstrations. It also acts as an occasion bridging investment opportunities, academic discussions and industrial-level brainstorming," Wu said.
A torrent of intelligent experiences, such as cashier-less banks and smart retail shops, will become available to participants and even residents living near event venues. AI-backed anchors, interpreters and meeting assistants also will flex their muscles to smooth the conferencing experience.
Shanghai will prioritize the development of AI in the realms of autonomous driving, robots, smart hardware, sensors, chips and software, Wu said. The city is planning to draft an AI development roadmap to expand industry influence and leverage the city's Xuhui and Zhangjiang areas as two leading spots.
China is looking to host 10 AI innovation development pilot zones by 2020. Shanghai was chosen as one destination to water-test breakthroughs in AI-related technology, policy, social impacts and governance, said Zhang Xu, vice-director of department of strategy and planning at the Ministry of Science and Technology.
He identified Shanghai's strengths as boasting a comprehensive industrial chain, solid big data foundation, fundamental AI applications and talent-rich research might.
Official statistics showed that the city is already home to 1,000 companies with AI as its core business. According to a plan issued last year by municipal authorities, Shanghai is looking to lead the pack by becoming a global AI hub, with plans to expand the scale of its industry to more than 100 billion yuan ($14.4 billion) by 2020.
Chinese technology giant Huawei won the most number of 5G network equipment contracts in a recent procurement from the telecom operator China Mobile, The Beijing News reported.
The centralized purchase, including MME telecom equipment and SAE-GW telecom equipment, awarded contracts to 5G equipment makers at home and abroad.
Huawei provided 219 units of MME telecom equipment, accounting for about 49 percent of the total procurements, while the European telecom equipment makers Ericsson, Nokia and China's ZTE offered 153 units, 56 units and 22 units, respectively.
China Mobile also procured 369 units of SAE-GW telecom equipment from Huawei, which accounted for some 54 percent of the company's purchase. Ericsson, Nokia and ZTE supplied 231 units, 60 units and 21 units, respectively.
On June 6, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology officially rolled out commercial 5G licenses. The country's three major telecom carriers — China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom, as well as the State-owned China Broadcasting Network Corp obtained the licenses.
China Mobile aimed to offer 5G commercial services in over 40 cities by this September, according to the report.
Dong Xin, China Mobile's vice-president and chief financial officer, said at a conference in March that the company initially plans to build 30,000 to 50,000 5G base stations. Its investment this year, including the 5G pre-commercial use, will not be higher than 167.1 billion yuan from the year of 2018.