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Baidu and Softbank’s SB Drive are bringing an autonomous bus service to Japan

Chinese search engine giant Baidu have partnered with Softbank subsidiary SB Drive and manufacturer King Long to deploy a self-driving mini bus service to Japan early next year.

The agreement was announced at Create Baidu, the company’s annual AI developer conference in Beijing. Under the agreement, a version of Baidu’s Apolong autonomous mini bus will be exported to Japan from China in early 2019. This agreement, which for now includes an order of 10 buses, marks the first time autonomous vehicles will be exported from China.

Apolong, co-developed with King Long, is outfitted with Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving system, which is capable of Level 4 operations, a designation by automotive engineering association SAE International that means the vehicles take over all driving in certain conditions. The buses, which will initially deployed in tourist spots, airports, and other controlled, or geo-fenced areas.

Baidu announced earlier at the conference that it has started volume production of the autonomous mini buses in partnership with King Long. The buses are being produced at King Long’s manufacturing facility in Xiamen, in southeastern China’s Fujian province.

Baidu plans to launch the autonomous bus service in several Chinese cities including Beijing, Shenzhen, Pingtan and Wuhan.

China’s Didi Chuxing continues its international expansion with Australia launch

Didi Chuxing, China’s dominant ride-hailing company, is continuing its international expansion after it announced plans to launch in Australia this month.

The company — which bought Uber’s China business in 2016 — said it will begin serving customers in Melbourne from June 25 following a month-long trial period in Geelong, a neighboring city that’s 75km away. The business will be run by a Didi subsidiary in Australia and it plans to offer “a series of welcome packages to both drivers and riders” — aka discounts and promotions, no doubt. It began signing up drivers on June 1, the company added.

The Australia launch will again put Didi in direct competition with Uber, but that is becoming increasingly common, and also Ola and Didi which both count Didi as an investor — more on that below. This move follows forays into Taiwan, Mexico and Brazil this year as Didi has finally expanded beyond its China-based empire.

Didi raised $4 billion in December to develop AI, general technology and to fund international expansion and it has taken a variety of routes to doing the latter. This Australia launch is organic, with Didi developing its own team, while in Taiwan it has used a franchise model and it went into Brazil via acquisition, snapping up local Uber-rival 99 at a valuation of $1 billion.

It is also set to enter Japan where it has teamed up with investor SoftBank on a joint-venture.

“In 2018, Didi will continue to cultivate markets in Latin America, Australia and Japan. We are confident a combination of world-class transportation AI technology and deep local expertise will bring a better experience to overseas markets,” the company added in a statement.

This international expansion has also brought a new level of confusion since Didi has cultivated relationships with other ride-hailing companies across the world while also expanding its own presence internationally.

The Uber deal brought with it a stock swap — turning Didi and Uber from competitors into stakeholders — and the Chinese company has also backed Grab in Southeast Asia, Lyft in the U.S., Ola in India, Careem in the Middle East and — more recentlyTaxify, which is primarily focused on Europe and Africa.

In the case of Australia, Didi will come up against Uber, Ola — present in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney via an expansion made earlier this year — and Taxify, too. Uber vs Didi is to be expected — that’s a complicated relationship — but in taking on Ola (so soon after it came to Australia), Didi is competing directly with a company that it funded via an investment deal for the first time.

That might be a small insight into Didi’s relationship with Ola. Unlike Grab, which has seen Didi follow-on its investments, the Chinese firm sat out Ola’s most recent fundraising last year despite making an investment in the company back in 2015.

“The ride-hailing industry is still a young business, and the potential for growth is substantial. Competition exists in ride-hailing, like in any flourishing industry. But it leads to better products and services, which ultimately benefits users,” Didi told TechCrunch in a statement when asked about its new rivalry with Ola and Taxify.

Ola declined to comment. Taxify did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The move into Australia comes at a time when Didi is under intense pressure following the death of a passenger uses its ‘Hitch’ service last month.

The company suspended the Hitch service — which allows groups people who are headed in the same direction together — and removed a number of features while limiting its operations to day-time only. This week, it said it would resume night-time rides but only for drivers picking up passengers of the same sex.

Uber CEO says there will be no more global exit deals

Uber has exited three global markets by selling to rivals, but enough is enough after its deal with Grab so says CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Following today’s announcement with Grab which sees Uber leave Southeast Asia hot on the heels of exits in China (2016) and Russia (2017), Khosrowshahi told employees that there will be no more repeats under his leadership.

It is fair to ask whether consolidation is now the strategy of the day, given this is the third deal of its kind, from China to Russia and now Southeast Asia. The answer is no.

One of the potential dangers of our global strategy is that we take on too many battles across too many fronts and with too many competitors. This transaction now puts us in a position to compete with real focus and weight in the core markets where we operate, while giving us valuable and growing equity stakes in a number of big and important markets where we don’t.

Rather that deals, the Uber CEO said he plans to develop the business organically via “growth that comes from building the best products, services and technology in the world.”

Since SoftBank’s investment in Uber closed in January there has been heightened speculation about potential consolidations in emerging markets, where the ride-hailing business is further from profitability than more developed markets like Europe and the U.S.. Indeed, SoftBank itself has called for Uber to focus on more financially-sustaining regions of the world.

Southeast Asia, where SoftBank has backed Grab, was a prime candidate for consolidation while India, where SoftBank-backed Ola competes with Grab, is another.

Just weeks ago, Khosrowshahi said Uber would invest to compete aggressively in Southeast Asia and yet this deal has been completed. Time will tell if this new denial of future deals will ring true, or whether SoftBank and others seeking consolidation will ring out.

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Uber’s Asian rival Grab loses its head of engineering

 Grab may be in the process of raising a huge $2.5 billion investment round, with SoftBank, Didi and Toyota confirmed as participants, but Uber’s Southeast Asia-based rival has lost its head of engineering.
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Travis Kalanick reportedly sought to reassert control at Uber after ouster

 Just under two months after resigning from Uber, former CEO Travis Kalanick has reportedly asked some former colleagues if they would support him in a potential shareholder battle, according to a new report by The Information. You’ll periodically find these kinds of proxy fights happening at public companies, but after his ouster, it appears that Kalanick still may want to try to gain… Read More

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SoftBank’s self-driving bus project pulls in $4.6M to push for 2020 commercialization

 SoftBank is doubling down on its self-driving bus project in Japan. SB Drive, an entity created last year to develop autonomous vehicle technology for public transport, just got a cash windfall after Yahoo Japan led a 510 million JPY ($4.6 million) investment. Yahoo Japan, the Yahoo affiliate which is one of Japan’s most influential tech companies, provided 490 million JPY ($4.4… Read More

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masayoshi son Anyone who’s seen Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son give a keynote speech will know he rarely sticks to the standard industry conference playbook. And his turn on the stage at Mobile World Congress this morning was no different, with Son making like Eldon Tyrell and telling delegates about his personal belief in a looming computing Singularity… Read More

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For some reason, Justin Bieber is not over that PPAP song yet

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Remember that Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen guy? Justin Bieber does.

The duo are teaming up together for a new Japanese commercial, in what could be the most unlikely bromance of 2017.

【ジャスティンfacebookより】#学割ってる #softbank
😱😱😱#justinJP pic.twitter.com/D2J6uCMvST

— Justin Bieber JAPAN (@bieber_japan) February 5, 2017

The actual commercial, for Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank, has yet to air, but a behind-the-scenes video has just been released and is getting shared quickly in Japan.

Japanese singer Piko-Taro took the Internet by storm last year after his song PPAP, which has been viewed over 113 million times, went viral.  Read more…

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