Autonomous-driving startup JingChi wrestles with tech giant Baidu

Tech giants from America to China are competing fiercely in the realm of autonomous driving with hefty investment and, if necessary, lawsuits. While the lawsuit between Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving unit, and ride-hailing company, Uber, continues, China’s search engine giant Baidu recently joined the “Game of Lawsuits” by suing driverless car startup, JingChi, which was established by former Baidu executive, Wang Jing.

Baidu claimed that Wang infringed on its business secrets and breached contractual agreements. Baidu is demanding a RMB 50 million (USD 7.6 million) compensation in the court filing, and even revealed a letter of commitment written by Wang on March 31, 2017 when he resigned, in which Wang says that he carelessly lost a MacBook and a printer assigned by Baidu, and that he is willing to assume any legal responsibility caused by the loss of the two items.

JingChi denied Baidu’s accusations and said that it’s not afraid of the powerful rival. Wang told the media that the MacBook and printer had been broken for years before his resignation.

The case, which is still being heard by a court in Beijing, reflects the fact that Baidu is under pressure from businesses built by an exodus of talent, especially JingChi.

On December 28, JingChi announced that it will relocate its global headquarters from Silicon Valley to Guangzhou, and signed an autonomous vehicle cooperation contract with Guangzhou’s Huangpu District and Guangzhou’s Development District. This will directly intensify its competition with Baidu in China.

“We expect to bring fully autonomous driving vehicles to Chinese cities by 2020, making us one of the very first companies in the world to deploy self-driving technology on a mass scale,” Wang once said publicly.

JingChi was founded by Wang in California, USA on April 3, 2017, only three days after he resigned from Baidu. He joined the Chinese equivalent of Google in April, 2010 and helped it to build up a set of institutions including Baidu Research and the Baidu Autonomous Driving Unit. Before he quit, he was the Senior VP of Baidu, Chairman of Baidu’s Technical Strategy Committee, and GM of its Autonomous Driving Unit.

Prior to Baidu, Wang was an executive in Silicon Valley companies such as Oracle and Informix. After returning to China in 2000, Wang held senior positions in Alibaba, eBay China, and Google China.

Wang Jing was seen in a Baidu event. Photo from autor.com.cn

Since its inception, Wang’s autonomous driving startup has attracted top talents from the self-driving field, achieved fast technological improvement, and secured considerable investment.

On June 2, 2017, JingChi announced that Tony Han, former Chief Scientist at Baidu’s Autonomous Driving Unit, joined the startup as CTO. In September, Qingxiong Yang, the former Senior Director of the Autonomous Driving Unit at Didi Chuxing, also joined the team.

JingChi’s experienced team has propelled its autonomous driving technology to the forefront of global competition.

In less than five weeks since its foundation, JingChi successfully conducted autonomous driving tests in a closed area. On June 18, it obtained a license for testing driverless vehicles on public roads in California, making it the 34th company to do so. On June 24, JingChi finished its first self-driving mode testing on public roads in Sunnyvale, California.

In August of 2017, JingChi signed an agreement with Anqing, a small city in eastern China, which allowed JingChi to deploy 50 autonomous test vehicles in the city. According to JingChi, the company plans to deploy hundreds of autonomous vehicles in 2018 to provide a ride-hailing service in Anqing.

JingChi demonstrated its autonomous driving cars in Guangzhou. Photo from JingChi

In its latest cooperation signing ceremony with Guangzhou’s local government, JingChi announced its plans to produce 500 to 1000 autonomous driving vehicles in 2018 starting from Q1.

In comparison, Baidu plans to start mass production of autonomous driving mini-buses in 2018, and cars in 2020.

JingChi’s fast development is backed by enthusiastic venture capital firms.

In September, JingChi secured USD 52 million in a pre-A funding round from Qiming Venture, NVIDIA GPU Ventures, and a consortium of other investors. The company looks to raise a total of USD 1 billion in its Series A round.

It is estimated that, by suing JingChi, Baidu aims to prevent other investors from further backing the autonomous driving startup and intimidate other companies founded by Baidu’s former executives.

Those startups include Horizon Robotics, HoloMatic, Drive.ai, Pony.ai, Roadstar.ai, DeepMap.ai, and Perception, among others. All of them are associated with artificial intelligence or autonomous driving.

(Top photo from JingChi)

Alex Liao
Alex Liao

Alex writes for AllTechAsia. Previously, he worked as a tech editor for Caijing magazine’s website for almost three years. He graduated from Beijing Normal University with a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature. He is interested in gadgets, new technology, cycling, running and hiking.

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