Ford and Baidu Team up on Infotainment Tech for Chinese Market

Ford hopes to leverage Baidu's tech for voice recognition and digital marketing.

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Ford and Chinese tech giant Baidu have signed a letter of intent calling for joint development of technology related to infotainment systems and connectivity. The two companies will also establish a "joint connectivity lab" in China, but did not specify whether the collaboration would extend to other markets.

Baidu, which is known primarily for developing a popular search engine and artificial-intelligence software, is expanding aggressively into the automotive realm. Under the agreement with Ford, Baidu will supply its DuerOS conversational AI platform for future infotainment systems in order to enable more sophisticated voice recognition and other features.

The two companies will explore cooperation in cloud computing. Ford hopes to develop a so-called "Transportation Mobility Cloud" that can act as a central hub for managing mobility services like ride-hailing. This will likely involve cooperation with a U.S. team to be installed at Ford's new downtown Detroit campus, anchored by the historic Michigan Central Station.

A third area of cooperating will involve using data to "explore business opportunities related to digital marketing," a Ford statement said. Ford hopes the partnership will help it learn more about Chinese consumer preferences.

Ford and Baidu already have an agreement to collaborate in the area of semi-autonomous driving. The Blue Oval is one of many companies that have signed on to help develop Baidu's open-source "Apollo" autonomous-driving technology platform. Ford has also discussed testing online car sales with another Chinese tech giant, Alibaba, and is partnering with local automaker Zotye to develop electric cars. These partnerships demonstrate the importance of the Chinese market, which has eclipsed the U.S. in sheer sales volumes.