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To Boost Waning Profits, Augmented Reality Lab Opened by China’s Baidu

To Boost Waning Profits, Augmented Reality Lab Opened by China’s Baidu
As part of a $200 million effort to revitalize the company's shrinking profits with cutting edge technology, Chinese search engine Baidu Inc has launched an augmented reality (AR) lab in Beijing.
While the lab would later explore healthcare and education, to start off, it would initially aim to drive revenue through AR marketing. There are 55 people currently employed at the lab.
"AR marketing is taking off," Andrew Ng, the chief scientist overseeing Baidu's artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and deep learning projects, said.
"There are few content formats where the content is evergreen - AR will be like that," he said.
Augmented reality involves rendering virtual images over real life settings viewed on a smartphone, headset or other device and it was popularised in 2016 by Nintendo Co Ltd's Pokemon Go game. Animation of a product or a branded space could be possible with the use of the software in marketing.
Baidu is gearing up to report full-year earnings next month and it's AR launch comes amidst those preparations. As it grapples with the aftermath of new government curbs on medical advertising, the company has forecast a revenue drop of around 4.6 percent. Those curbs saw ad customers drop 16 percent in the quarter ended in September and has consequently slashed into the profits of its core search business.
Before the announcement of a $3 billion investment fund announced in October focusing on mid-to-late stage startups, the company had injected $200 million into its AI and AR unit in September in an effort to kick start new growth.
The company has demonstrated a small range of high-end applications and Yum! Brands Inc's KFC, BMW and L'Oreal SA's Lancome among the other brands  that the company is now currently working with AR in China, it said in a statement.
Unlike current popular AR games, to produce visuals capable of interacting with real-time surroundings, Baidu is working on integrating AR with AI after it had begun working on the technology two years ago.
"It's working quite well now, but it's clear that it could be better," said Ng. "I'm quite optimistic."
In China, still going through a regulatory teething phase is AR technology. The ire of regulators who have refused to license some services over security concerns, has been drawn by the springing up of location-based AR concepts even though Pokemon Go is yet to launch there.
According to Ng, Baidu is yet to run into the same issues.
"I feel like the abilities for AR have risen up in China faster than the Western world may be aware," said Ng.
On the other hand, an accelerator program in Israel for startups developing cloud technologies or whose technologies are based in the cloud will be opened by U.S. software provider Oracle Corp, the company said.
Access to Oracle's customers, and partners and investors and six months of mentoring from technical and business experts, advanced technology would be provided by the program that would be run by Oracle's research and development team.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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