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Artificial intelligence

Waymo takes a tiny step into China

August 24, 2018

Alphabet’s self-driving-car subsidiary, Waymo, has kicked off speculation about its ambitions for the Chinese market by creating a small outpost in Shanghai.

What’s it mean? If Waymo is aiming to break into China, then this would be a very preliminary step. The new office might also be something less exciting: a means of working with Chinese hardware suppliers, for instance.

Auto revolution: That said, it would make a lot of sense for Waymo to target China. It is the world’s largest auto market and a hotbed of technology and market innovation. And while Google’s plans to re-enter the Chinese market have proved controversial, the truth is that China cannot be ignored by any tech company that wants to be a global force.

Moonshot: Waymo has something of a head start in autonomous driving, but an open-source self-driving platform released last year by Chinese rival Baidu could be a threat. This platform, called Apollo, will be attractive to China’s domestic carmakers, many of which may lack the resources to develop self-driving tech from scratch.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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