Jan
09
2019
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Baidu Cloud launches its open-source edge computing platform

At CES, the Chinese tech giant Baidu today announced OpenEdge, its open-source edge computing platform. At its core, OpenEdge is the local package component of Baidu’s existing Intelligent Edge (BIE) commercial offering and obviously plays well with that service’s components for managing edge nodes and apps.

Because this is obviously a developer announcement, I’m not sure why Baidu decided to use CES as the venue for this release, but there can be no doubt that China’s major tech firms have become quite comfortable with open source. Companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and others are often members of the Linux Foundation and its growing stable of projects, for example, and virtually ever major open-source organization now looks to China as its growth market. It’s no surprise, then, that we’re also now seeing a wider range of Chinese companies that open source their own projects.

“Edge computing is a critical component of Baidu’s ABC (AI, Big Data and Cloud Computing) strategy,” says Baidu VP and GM of Baidu Cloud Watson Yin. “By moving the compute closer to the source of the data, it greatly reduces the latency, lowers the bandwidth usage and ultimately brings real-time and immersive experiences to end users. And by providing an open source platform, we have also greatly simplified the process for developers to create their own edge computing applications.”

A company spokesperson tells us that the open-source platform will include features like data collection, message distribution and AI inference, as well as tools for syncing with the cloud.

Baidu also today announced that it has partnered with Intel to launch the BIE-AI-Box and with NXP Semiconductors to launch the BIE-AI-Board. The box is designed for in-vehicle video analysis while the board is small enough for cameras, drones, robots and similar applications.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Jan
08
2019
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Baidu announces Apollo Enterprise, its new platform for mass-produced autonomous vehicles

Baidu made several big announcements about Apollo, its open-source autonomous vehicle technology platform, today at CES. The first is the launch of Apollo Enterprise for vehicles that will be put into mass production. The company claims that Apollo is already used by 130 partners around the world. One of its newest partners, Chinese electric vehicle startup WM Motors, plans to deploy level 3 autonomous vehicles by 2021.

Apollo Enterprise’s main product lines will include solutions for highway autonomous driving; autonomous valet parking; fully autonomous mini-buses; an intelligent map data service platform; and DuerOS (Baidu’s voice assistant) for cars.

Baidu also released Apollo 3.5, the latest version of its platform, which now supports “complex urban and suburban driving environments.” Apollo 3.5 is already used by customers, including Udelv, an autonomous delivery van startup that recently partnered with Walmart to test grocery deliveries. Baidu says up to 100 self-driving vehicles based on Apollo 3.5 will be deployed in the San Francisco Bay Area and other regions in the United States.

In China, Baidu plans to launch 100 robo-taxis that will cover 130 miles of city roads in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province. The robo-taxis will use Baidu’s V2X (i.e. vehicle-to-everything) technology, to enable them to communicate with road infrastructure, like traffic lights.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Jan
08
2019
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Amid a legal fight in LA, IBM’s Weather Company launches hyperlocal weather forecasts globally

While IBM is getting sued by the city of Los Angeles, accusing it of covertly mining user data in the Weather Channel app in the US, it’s testing the waters for another hyperlocal weather feature that — coincidentally — relies on data that it picks up from sensors on app users’ smartphones, among other devices, combined with AI at IBM’s end to help model the information.

Today at CES, the company announced new service called the Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System — GRAF for short — a new weather forecasting system that says it will provide the most accurate weather for anywhere in the world, running every hour, and in increments of every three kilometers everywhere by way of crunching around 10 terabytes of data every day.

The new hyperlocal weather data will start to become available in 2019.

This is a key piece of news particularly for the developing world. There has been some effort already to create and use hyperlocal weather information in the US market using things like in-built sensors that can pick up information on, for example, barometric pressure — the very feature that is now the subject of a lawsuit — but there have been fewer efforts to bring that kind of service to a wider, global audience.

“If you’re a farmer in Kenya or Kansas, you will get a way better weather prediction,” said Ginny Rometty, the CEO of IBM, announcing the service today at CES.

She added that other potential end users of the data could include airlines to better predict when a plane might encounter turbulence or other patterns that could affect a flight; insurance companies managing recovery operations and claims around natural disasters; and utility companies monitoring for faults or preparing for severe weather strains on their systems.

Rometty said that the Weather Channel app’s 100 million users — and, in an estimation from Mary Glackin, the Weather Channel’s VP of business solutions, 300 million monthly active users when considering the wider network of places where the data gets used including Weather.com and Weather Underground — will be providing the data “with consent”. Data sourced from businesses will be coming from customers that are partners and are also likely to become users of the data.

That data in turn will be run through IBM’s Power9 supercomputers, the same ones used in the US Department of Energy’s Summit and Sierra  supercomputers, and modelled using suplementary data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The news represents a big step change for the Weather Company and for meteorology research, Glackin said in an interview.

“This is going to be the first significant implementation of GPUs at the Weather Company,” she told me. “The weather community has been slow to adopt to technology, but this is providing much improved performance for us, with higher resolutions and a much finer scale and focus of short-term forecasts.”

The new service of providing hyperlocal data also underscores an interesting turn for IBM as it turns its efforts to building the Weather Channel business into a more global operation, and one that helps deliver more business returns for IBM itself.

Glackin said the Weather Channel app was the most-downloaded weather app in India last year, underscoring how it, like other consumer apps, is seeing more growth outside of the US at the moment after already reaching market saturation in its home market.

Saturation, and some controversy. It’s not clear how the lawsuit in LA will play out, but the fact that it’s been filed definitely points to changing opinions and sensibilities when it comes to the use of personal data, and more generally how consumers and authorities are starting to think about how all that data that we are generating every day on our connected devices is getting used.

IBM is by far not the only company, nor the most vilified, when it comes to this issue, but at a time when the company is still trying to capitalise on the potential of how to commercialise the trove of information and customer connections in its wider business network, this will be something that will impact it as well.

Notably, Rometty closed off her keynote today at CES with a few parting words that reference that.

“As we work on these technologies, all that data that we talked about, that ownership, they belong to the user, and with their permission, we use that,” she said, adding, “These technologies also need to be open and explainable.”

Jan
08
2019
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IBM unveils its first commercial quantum computer

At CES, IBM today announced its first commercial quantum computer for use outside of the lab. The 20-qubit system combines into a single package the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications. That package, the IBM Q system, is still huge, of course, but it includes everything a company would need to get started with its quantum computing experiments, including all the machinery necessary to cool the quantum computing hardware.

While IBM describes it as the first fully integrated universal quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use, it’s worth stressing that a 20-qubit machine is nowhere near powerful enough for most of the commercial applications that people envision for a quantum computer with more qubits — and qubits that are useful for more than 100 microseconds. It’s no surprise then, that IBM stresses that this is a first attempt and that the systems are “designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle.” Right now, we’re not quite there yet, but the company also notes that these systems are upgradable (and easy to maintain).

“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research. “This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”

More than anything, though, IBM seems to be proud of the design of the Q systems. In a move that harkens back to Cray’s supercomputers with its expensive couches, IBM worked with design studios Map Project Office and Universal Design Studio, as well Goppion, the company that has built, among other things, the display cases that house the U.K.’s crown jewels and the Mona Lisa. IBM clearly thinks of the Q system as a piece of art and, indeed, the final result is quite stunning. It’s a nine-foot-tall and nine-foot-wide airtight box, with the quantum computing chandelier hanging in the middle, with all of the parts neatly hidden away.

If you want to buy yourself a quantum computer, you’ll have to work with IBM, though. It won’t be available with free two-day shipping on Amazon anytime soon.

In related news, IBM also announced the IBM Q Network, a partnership with ExxonMobil and research labs like CERN and Fermilab that aims to build a community that brings together the business and research interests to explore use cases for quantum computing. The organizations that partner with IBM will get access to its quantum software and cloud-based quantum computing systems.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

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