Uber Rival Didi Chuxing Sets Up Shop in Silicon Valley

Photograph by Qilai Shen—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Didi Chuxing, the China-based ride-hailing service that bought rival Uber’s China business last year, has arrived in Silicon Valley.

The company is opening a research and development center called Didi Labs in Mountain View, Calif., one of several Silicon Valley hotspots for artificial intelligence and self-driving car technology startups.

Didi has acquired, partnered, and invested in a number of companies outside of China, including strategic partnerships with Ola in India, Grab in Southeast Asia, and Lyft in the U.S. Earlier this year, Didi made a $100 million investment in Brazil-based on-demand taxi service 99.

However, this new research and development center marks Didi’s first physical office outside of China. The company doesn’t plan to open its ride-hailing service in the U.S.

Didi Labs will be led by Dr. Fengmin Gong, vice president of the Didi Research Institute. Gong, a Silicon Valley-based information security scientist, helped create the research center after his company, AssureSec, was acquired by Didi in September.

The lab was made public on Wednesday at Udacity’s Intersect conference in Mountain View, where a self-driving competition was held.

The R&D center’s most recent high-profile hire is Charlie Miller, the computer scientist and automotive security expert, who, along with Chris Valasek, hacked a Jeep and helped identify a number of security vulnerabilities in the vehicle. Miller tweeted last week that we was leaving Uber, where he was senior engineer of the company’s autonomous driving division for about 18 months. Today, he announced he was joining Didi Labs.

Miller tweeted Wednesday that he will lead the effort to ensure Didi’s autonomous transportation systems are secure. In other words, to make sure Didi’s products are not vulnerable to hackers.

Didi Labs is working on more than cybersecurity for autonomous vehicles. The center has projects focused on deep learning, human-machine interaction, computer vision and imaging, as well as intelligent driving technologies, according to Didi Labs.

The lab’s primary focus is working on ways to use artificial intelligence for applications in its products today—or the near future—and not just a moonshot like self-driving vehicles that would be ready years from now. For instance, AI can be used to better match riders with drivers in its ride-hailing app in China, where it completes more than 20 million rides a day. Or it could be used to more efficiently route drivers where they’re needed without adding to traffic congestion.

Security is an underlying factor in all of these uses.

The Silicon Valley-based center will work with Didi’s broader research network in China.

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