China’s Didi Chuxing first caught everyone’s attention when Apple (AAPL - Free Report) made a billion dollar investment in the company. But the two companies have been pretty silent on that relationship ever since.
Apple has at times expressed its interest in self-driving cars and recently, some of its engineers have opened up about breakthrough technology that can improve the design and appearance of the LiDAR-based camera system used in them.
Didi has for its part turned into a far more aggressive ride hailing company. After selling 17.5% of the company to Uber in exchange for its entire Chinese operations to strengthen its position versus Meituan, the company has turned its attention overseas.
Didi’s Expansion Spree
It has bought stakes in ride hailing companies like Grab which operates in Southeast Asia, Ola in India, Careem in the Middle East, Taxify across Europe and Lyft in the U.S. After its 2016 $100 million investment in Brazil-born 99 Taxis, Didi has now bought out the rest of the company for another $600 million. Brazil is different from the other markets because Uber’s dominance is practically unchallenged here. It also has the right demographics to generate strong sales for a ride hailing service.
Didi’s AI Effort in the U.S.
Early last year, Didi opened an artificial intelligence lab in Mountain View, California. Some of its hires included Palo Alto Networks co-founder Dr. Fengmin Gong as its VP of information security and Jia Zhaoyin from Alphabet’s (GOOGL - Free Report) Waymo as its principal engineer. It also whisked away Charlie Miller from Uber to lead its security and safety development teams. Didi has also partnered with college nanodegree startup Udacity with the goal of snapping up fresh talent for this R&D effort.
All this seems to indicate that the Apple-Didi partnership is alive and well. Didi can help Apple with data collection while Apple can provide it with its self-driving technology in a deal that should be mutually beneficial.
Apple appears to have fallen behind in the self-driving race so far, with Google, Baidu (BIDU - Free Report) , Tesla (TSLA - Free Report) , General Motors (GM - Free Report) , Ford (F - Free Report) and other automakers already clocking millions of test miles and in various stages of bringing autonomous cars to market. But its arrangement with Didi could change things (wish we knew more about it though!)
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