Baidu Opens Augmented Reality Lab in Beijing

The Chinese search engine will also begin integrating AR into search.

As part of a $200 million effort to revamp the company’s shrinking profits with new technology, the Chinese search giant launched an augmented reality (AR) lab Monday in Beijing.

Baidu’s lab, which currently employs 55 people according Reuters, is intended to drive revenue through AR marketing as well as open up the potential to explore healthcare, education and tourism within the new medium.

Back in August, Baidu launched their DuSee augmented reality platform for smartphones that is expected to be integrated in the company’s platform apps, such as the Mobile Baidu search app. Leveraging this platform, Baidu has built AR solutions for leading brands such as L’Oreal China, KFC China and Lancôme, providing customers with fun, interactive experiences to learn about products and offerings. In L’Oreal China’s case, users could activate AR effects on shampoo bottles and interact with the images to get promotions.

With a base of hundreds of millions of monthly active users, Baidu has the potential to bring AR to mainstream consumer phones without ever lifting a finger to build specialized headsets.

Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist of Baidu, commented: “DuSee is a natural extension of Baidu’s AI expertise. The platform uses sophisticated computer vision and deep learning to understand and then augment a scene. The path to better AR is through better AI.”

Baidu is already shipping AR experiences inside Mobile Baidu, Baidu Maps and its local services app, Baidu Nuomi. When users search for certain keywords on Mobile Baidu, options to see AR effects related to those keywords appear on the screen. During a demo of a DuSee-enabled Baidu Search app back in August, a 2D map of Shanghai was turned into a 3D mixed reality graphic on the smartphone.

baidu-ar-lab-beijingIn conjunction with the announcement, the AR Lab has launched a project that “recreated” lost historical sites along a Beijing subway line using AR technologies. Starting today, passengers riding subway line 2 can use their smartphones to view 3D simulations of nine historical city gates of Beijing, which have either been demolished or drastically renovated.

The AR effects, which also contain other visual elements that are unique to the history of each gate, can be activated by turning on the camera function inside the Mobile Baidu app and then taking a picture of the old city gate photos inside subway stations.

“AR allows us to synthesize the virtual world with the real world, and will transform how all of us perceive our surroundings,” said Zhongqin Wu, Head of Baidu’s new AR Lab. “We’ve already seen rapid growth in AR marketing, and expect other industries to follow.”

Image Credit: Baidu

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Jonathan Nafarrete

Jonathan Nafarrete is the co-founder of VRScout.

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