Could This Help Apple Car? Didi Opens Self-Driving Car Lab In California


Less than a year after Apple invested a huge $1 billion in Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing service provider has set up a self-driving car lab in Apple’s backyard. The investment gave Apple a seat on Didi’s board. At the time, it was rumored that the investment would give Apple access to vital driving data it needed for the development of Apple car or Project Titan. But Didi seems to have its own self-driving car ambitions.

Didi has a direct presence in the mecca of self-driving car industry

According to Recode, Didi Chuxing’s new research lab in Mountain View, California would focus on “intelligent-driving systems” and artificial intelligence-based security for transportation. It shows the Chinese company’s interest in self-driving cars. The Mountain View office would give Didi Labs an opportunity to recruit top talent in the self-driving car industry.

Google, Apple, Uber, Tesla, and many other autonomous driving startups have a presence in the nearby areas. It will be Didi’s first major expansion outside China. The ride-hailing company has expanded to India, Brazil, and Southeast Asia through investments in local ride-hailing startups. The Mountain View-based Didi Labs will be led by Dr. Fengim Gong, Didi’s VP of information security and the co-founder of Palo Alto Networks.

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Will Didi and Apple partner in the future?

The company has also hired Charlie Miller to lead its security and safety development programs. Miller gained recognition after hacking a moving Jeep on a highway. He left Uber’s self-driving program just a few days ago. Didi has also poached Jia Zhaoyin from Google. Zhaoyin was a senior software engineer at Google’s Waymo.

There doesn’t seem to be a direct connection between Didi’s new facility and the secretive Apple car project. Apple’s investment in Didi was certainly unusual considering Apple had historically made only low-profile acquisitions. Tim Cook said at the time that the investment was driven by “a number of strategic reasons.” There have been speculations that the investment could lead to a partnership between Didi and Apple in the future as the iPhone maker has also been working on self-driving cars.

Consumers excited about the Apple car

The Apple car project has met with some roadblocks since last year. Initially, the Cupertino company was working on a full-fledged car. But after the departure of key employees, the project was scaled back to focus mainly on the autonomous driving technology. It would leave the door open for Apple to build its own car in the future or join hands with a third-party manufacturer.

A survey conducted by investment research firm Baird revealed last month that customers were most excited about the Apple car. Baird analyst asked participants which Apple product they wanted to see in the next few years. The majority of the 3,000 respondents wanted an Apple car.