Popular Chinese search engine Baidu has announced it is expanding its augmented reality (AR) focus into areas such as travel, architecture and healthcare and moving away from online advertising.
Baidu says that artificial intelligence (AI) and AR are two key strategic points for the company as it shifts funding into AI and AR research, including hiring ex-Microsoft executive Qi Lu to run it’s AI division. Baidu’s AR lab was launched in January 2017, formalising work Baidu had already done with big brands such as Mercedes Benz, KFC and L’Oreal.
In an interview with The Drum, Hui Qiao, chief architect of Baidu’s Augmented Reality Lab said; “When we started to explore AR applications in 2016, we found advertising and brand marketing was a very good fit for us. After just one year, we have so many customers and we realised the potential that AR can bring to their new products. That’s why we thought advertising was a good start for AR. Brand marketing is our first step, we are actually trying other industries with AR.”
Qiao said that Baidu was already working with a Theme Park brand and some Chinese travel companies as it explores how its AR technology can help other industries.
“People in the industry are actively talking about how their business can cope with AR. I think people are still exploring what they can do with AR and we are talking with a lot of companies about how AR can help their business.” Qiao continued, “Currently we are talking to brands about putting ‘AR inside’ logos onto packaging so that users will know there are AR effects that they can access with their phone. People don’t really know what AR is, probably this year or next year people will be much more used to opening their phones to trigger AR effects.”
Qiao also insists the future of virtual reality (VR) and AR is in mobile phones. He said; “China has a huge percentage of smartphone users – more than 700 million. So most AR is happening on smartphones instead of AR headsets. Currently we are working on one camera cell phones and there’s a lot of limitations for AR. If we have two cameras we can do much more in AR.”
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