DiDi partners with SoftBank in Japan for platform services for taxi industry, launches open new …

Didi
A key element in DiDi’s strategy is building a smart transportation ecosystem to capture future opportunities, with global expansion through alliances with regional partners. Source: DiDi. Click to enlarge.

From its founding as a taxi-hailing business, DiDi has been building up a world-leading one-stop transportation platform since 2012. The company continues to apply its big data capabilities to increase taxi drivers’ work efficiency and income. With 2 million taxi drivers connected to the app, DiDi is now the world’s leading online platform for taxi-hailing. In 2017, taxi drivers completed 1.1 billion rides on DiDi. DiDi is also working closely with taxi companies to help them build intelligent IT and driver management systems. Currently DiDi has established partnerships with about 500 taxi operators in China.

Separately, in Beijing, DiDi launched its car-sharing platform. DiDi is partnering with automakers, new energy transportation infrastructure operators and after-sales service providers to build an open new energy car-sharing system. The network of strategic partners includes 12 top automakers including BAIC BJEV, BYD, Chang’an Automobile Group, Chery Automobile Group, Dongfeng Passenger Vehicle, First Auto Works, Geely Auto, Hawtai Motor, JAC Motors, KIA Motors, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, and Zotye Auto.

According to a study by GM Insights, the global car-sharing market is expected to grow 34% annually from 2017 to 2024, while the annual growth rate in China will exceed 40%. The first generation of large-scale, new energy car-sharing platforms are expected to materialize in core emerging countries such as China.

DiDi hopes to leverage on its AI strengths and national network to empower the entire automotive industry chain. The company’s data analytics capabilities enable smarter network management based on dynamic understanding of user distribution and attributes. Under the partnership, DiDi will open its platform to automakers’ own sharing services. The platform will introduce to individuals and corporate partners not only diversified models from automakers, but also auto-related finance and insurance services.

In addition to automakers, DiDi will also work closely with other car-sharing services, rental companies, infrastructure operators and after-sales service providers. As of August 2017, DiDi—which acquired Uber China in 2016—had built investment and technology partnerships with seven leading rideshare companies of the world, including Lyft, Grab, Ola, Uber, 99, Taxify and Careem.

DiDi believes the new program will reduce cost and enhance efficiency for the entire industry chain by integrating resources from cars, capital, parking spaces, charging points and refueling stations, to auto-maintenance and repair services in a new, open ecosystem of collaboration.

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Cyberwarfare is taking to the skies, aboard drones

Uber uses a master algorithm to determine how much money its drivers make—and women are ending up with less.

The gap: In a study released today of over 1.8 million drivers on the platform, women were found to earn $1.24 per hour less than men. Women also earned $130 less per week on average, in part because they tend to drive fewer hours.

The cause: The study, which was carried out by researchers at Stanford and Uber and has not undergone peer review, attributed the difference in pay to fact that male Uber drivers:

—Are more likely to drive in higher-paying locations

—Drive faster

—Take on trips with shorter distances to the rider

—Chose to drive longer trips

All of these are variables in the formula Uber uses to calculate driver wages, and the study showed they all tilted in men’s favor (the study claims men earn $21.28 an hour, on average). Women also have higher turnover on the platform, and more experienced drivers tend to get higher pay.

Though it wasn’t covered in the study, one reason women may avoid higher-paying areas is that they don’t feel safe—they may opt not to drive late at night in certain places, for instance, or stay away from neighborhoods that are considered dangerous.

Closing the gap: The study shows there’s a persistent disparity in pay by gender, and Uber may have a hard time fixing it. Stanford economist Rebecca Diamond, one of the paper’s coauthors, says the researchers considered recommending taking speed out of the equation, for example. But as she says, “both riders and drivers would prefer to arrive at the destination sooner.”

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Didi is using its new AI Brain to crack the toughest puzzle—our cities

Didi is becoming big in big data and, according to latest announcements, their new project is set to change how cities look at mobility. The Chinese ride-hailing giant has just launched the “Didi Smart Transportation Brain,” a solution that brings data from government and other partners to develop a city traffic management powered by AI and cloud technology.

What the Brain is solving is not just traffic jams, it’s a huge city-sized puzzle. The project has been in development for around a year now, piloting in over 20 Chinese cities. It’s a multidisciplinary endeavor: it includes analyzing data from video cameras, sensors and GPS signals from Didi’s cars, installing intelligent traffic lights, working with local traffic police and city planners.

“The transportation industry is still nascent in terms of data analytics and what we are trying to do is be the frontrunner with DiDi’s network, dataset, infrastructure and technologies to push the frontier for transportation,” Liu Xidi, the head of Public Transportation Division at Didi Chuxing told TechNode during Didi’s Intelligent Transportation Summit in Beijing held on Thursday.

DiDi’s Intelligent Transportation Summit was held on January 25, 2018 in Beijing. (Image credit: Didi Chuxing)

Didi Chuxing claims it is the largest connected network in the world. The number of drivers that worked on their platform in 2017 was over 21 million, according to DiDi’s Senior Vice President Zhang Wensong who talked with TechNode. This huge number is transforming Didi into a different animal than its global competitor Uber and it’s not just implementing AI and big data to optimize their ride-hailing or solve traffic jams. Didi is now a total mobility company covering every aspect of mobility, from infrastructure to vehicles to humans.

Solving city traffic like Google’s AlphaGo

“Usually when we are compared to Uber we mostly pay attention to our technology and our product and we think Didi is a big data and a technology company. Our platform and our technology are probably most advanced in the world,” says Zhang. According to him, the complexity of the dispatching system makes the algorithms behind it extremely sophisticated, much more complicated than what Google’s AI software AlphaGo faces during Go games.

Zhang is a data man. A former CTO and Vice President of Alibaba Cloud Computing he knows his way around numbers and explains the problem that Didi faces in a numerical way:

Passenger A orders a ride and the system dispatches a driver. A millisecond later passenger B pops up and he is located much closer to the driver than passenger A. If the driver were to pick up passenger A instead of passenger B that wouldn’t be an optimized solution: time has been wasted. That’s why the system puts the two passengers in a queue and matches them with drivers that are closer to them.

The problem is that this solution remains the optimal one for a very short time: 2 seconds. After that, another passenger may place an order, in a couple of more seconds the fourth one, and so on. The system has to adapt within 2 seconds.

Traffic dynamics of 400 cities in 24 hours painted with DiDi’s big data. (Image credit: Didi Chuxing)

“This is just an optimized solution for 2 seconds but it’s not an optimized solution for 4 seconds or one minute so we need to anticipate the future,” Zhang explained. “Since we know each day has 86,400 seconds, if we divide it in 2 seconds there are 43,200 steps and we know Go is only 19 multiplied by 19 or 361 steps that’s why our problem is 100 times more complicated than Go.”

The AlphaGo comparison also translates to managing city traffic, according to Didi. The AI program was successful because it analyzed each and every game of Go in the history, including the most complicated ones. Didi is analyzing some of the world’s most complicated cities—China’s cities. Unlike urban centers in developed countries like the US that tend to be well-planned out, cities like Beijing or Manila are often chaotic.

More importantly for Didi’s ride-hailing service, passenger and driver needs are different in China than the US for instance where car ownership is more prevalent. This means DiDi can develop services that cater better to environments more similar to China which is the majority of the world. Cracking some of the messiest cases in China both in ride-hailing services and in smart traffic management means that they will have something valuable to offer during their global expansion.

A new product for globalization?

Previously unknown outside China, Didi has been making headway in their globalization goal. After abandoning its US project by turning over their business to Lyft, the company has invested in Brazilian ride-hailing startup 99. It has partnered with several other ride-hailing companies, including Grab in Southeast Asia, Ola in India and Taxify, which has a presence in Europe, Africa, and other regions.

“For smart transportation, we have actually talked to various government entities to tell them what we are trying to do, what we’re doing now and how far we’ve gone,” says Liu. “Most of them are very excited because congestion is not an Asian problem, it’s a global problem, especially in all the major cities—developed and developing.”

Liu Xidi, Head of Public Transportation Division, Smart Transportation Department (l) and Zhang Wensong, Senior Vice President at Didi Chuxing (r) showcasing the complexities of the Didi Brain. (Image credit: TechNode)

However, Liu stresses that the smart transportation division is still in development even though it now has around 200 employees on board. “We are still young, one year old, we are still growing and it takes time.”

The division is now focusing their efforts on Chinese cities, working with local traffic authorities to implement their project and with ministry-level researchers to create standards and policies. They are developing a couple of product lines or units including smart traffic lights, monitoring systems, and optimizing public transportation. Didi has also announced on Friday the opening of its third research institute, the new AI Labs in Beijing which will be led by Prof. Ye Jieping, Vice President of Didi Chuxing.

Although no such plans have been announced, it is easy to imagine that Didi will eventually want to monetize its project abroad and this would be a smart investment. Despite all that impressive data and shiny AI algorithms, many governments are reluctant to welcome companies such as Didi, Uber, and Lyft in fears of destroying the local taxi industry and creating a monopoly. Didi’s big data, and sharing of that data, might be a way for Didi to open these markets and assuage those fears.

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DNA SNAP Week of Nov 27 – Dec 1

Exciting yet unsettling times because of disruption

These are exciting yet unsettling times we live in. Ridesharing companies (they are not startups anymore) Uber and Grab started out with the noble intentions of helping cab drivers earn a better living and for private individuals to augment their income. But now Uber has ordered 24,000 autonomous cars and I guarantee you it is not about helping its existing drivers meet overwhelming demand.

The million ringgit question Grab drivers in Southeast Asia will be asking is, “When will Grab do the same?” It is not a question of “will they”.

And we keep hearing about how because of increasing digitization of business and the increasing scale the four horsemen of our times – Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple – competition is business is being reshaped where you will, sorry, I meant, “are” already facing competition from non-traditional players.

At the recent What’s Next: The Business Impact of Disruptive Technology conference, we had the chief strategy officer of the leading bank in the country and Southeast Asia, Maybank, tell us that what keep’s him awake at night is not competition from other banks but from the tech players who come with scale, technology and data.

And by the way, wechat just started offering payment services to its users who visit Malaysia. How soon before they offer it to their Malaysian users as well?

And by the way, the four (digital) horsemen of our times now have to make space for a fifth in the form of Jack Ma and his Alibaba. And no doubt to be followed by Tencent and Baidu as well.

Meanwhile something else that is more unsettling than it is exciting is the looming dislocation about to hit the job market courtesy of the umbrella term Industry4.0 / 4th Industrial Revolution. And the Malaysian government is very concerned about the possible impact. So concerned is it that, surprising for me, it is taking the lead in pushing industry and business to face up to this and to be prepared.

One would think private enterprise would be well aware of any trends that could potentially disrupt their business and adapt to it. But the Malaysian government has clearly decided that the business community here is not taking this coming disruption seriously enough and has started pushing them to prioritize dealing with the opportunities and threats from this.

One of the frontline agencies pushing awareness and preparation is the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF) the agency tasked with upskilling and reskilling the nation. There was a strong big data and analytics focus during its annual conference last week, where I also moderated a panel with three HR directors who shared how they were using data and analytics in their roles while urging the 2,500 attendees to start seeing data and analytics as a key tool to be used by them.

Its chief development officer, Wan Yon Shahima Wan Othman, expressed concern that industry and the work force were not ready for the changes the disruptions a whole host of technologies are causing as part of Industry4.0.

She urged employers to look at upskilling and multiskilling workers to equip them to go beyond their job scope when the need arises.

It was exciting for me to be part of the conference and witness how the machinery of government is moving and pushing industry to adapt today, not tomorrow to the disruptions happening around us and to capture opportunity from the change that is coming. Who would have figured that.

With that, I wish you a restful weekend and a productive week ahead.

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Innovation heralds a new online era

Innovation heralds a new online era

From left: Han Kun, CEO and founder of Yixia Tech, Cheng Wei, CEO and founder of Didi Chuxing, and Eric Jing, CEO of Ant Financial Services Group. [Photo/VCG]

Editor’s Note: The fourth World Internet Conference, also known as the Wuzhen Summit, starts on Sunday in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. In the run-up to the event, China Daily reporters Ma Si, He Wei and Fan Feifei quizzed senior executives from three internet-based businesses that are at the forefront of online innovation. Here, Cheng Wei, CEO and founder of ride-sharing firm Didi Chuxing, Han Kun, CEO and founder of video-sharing app Yixia Tech, and Eric Jing, CEO of Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, discuss how the internet is reshaping innovation.

How do you view China’s role in the global internet arena, and what are the most innovative trends and products?

Cheng Wei: In recent years, I’ve seen so many innovations in China’s internet industry. And it has made a huge difference across the world. I believe China will become the online linchpin, leading a number of revolutionary transformations in the sharing economy, transportation and artificial intelligence.

The most interesting development is how people take things online and then apply them offline again to change existing industries. The artificial intelligence technology behind ride-sharing is now being used to help taxi companies and bus operators to revolutionize the way they manage drivers, and vehicles.

Traffic lights have existed for centuries but now Didi scientists are using big data analytics to manage them real time. Technology is not only about expensive gadgets but a life necessity such as affordable, on-demand mobility for everyone.

The ability of technology is to bridge gaps and be a force of inclusion rather than exclusion. This is the trend that will carry China and the rest of the world toward a more interconnected and shared future.

Han Kun: China’s internet technology and applications have evolved alongside the rapid development of the country’s economy. Our mobile internet technology and apps are currently leading the world. We are also innovators in the internet field.

The most innovative products may come from the areas of artificial intelligence, or AI, and mobile video. As AI technology sweeps across the world, countries are introducing new laws and policies to secure the development of this industry. Additionally, mobile videos, especially short ones, have experienced high speed development.

Eric Jing: The so-called “Copy to China” model has seen a distinct shift in recent years. In fact, in sectors like fintech, China has the scale and technology to lead innovation globally.

The prevalence of mobile payments has unlocked new economic opportunities for people and small businesses. Nowadays, four Chinese consumers in five will tell you that they are comfortable going out with only their smartphones and no cash.

People, including the elderly, buy groceries from street vendors by scanning a printed QR code using their mobile phones. You just don’t see this in other parts of the world. In addition to bringing convenience for buyers, mobile payment has also helped street vendors address the long standing issue of fake bank notes. Another area that China is well positioned to compete globally is the application of AI to transform traditional businesses. The tangible benefit of applying AI to services has the power of dramatically increasing productivity. This in turn will give people greater access.

What will be the challenges facing China as it becomes a powerful, friendly internet country?

Cheng Wei: Powerful internet countries have many similar traits, but I think the most important ones are being inclusive and forward-looking. Didi’s rapid growth in China proves how important these characteristics can be.

For example, when the rest of the world was bickering about whether online ride-hailing and ride-sharing was legal or not, China became the first country to give it the all clear on a national basis. It was a huge step for a country with the vision to see the coming revolution in transport.

With ride-sharing, electric vehicles and autonomous driving, China will lead the next wave in transportation across the world.

Han Kun: As far as I am concerned, internet power should have the following characteristics, such as a large population and a well-equipped network infrastructure. It should also be strong scientifically with innovation capability and a pool of internet talent. A good capital environment is another important part. China has nearly all those characteristics.

But the country still needs to grasp the coming opportunities, meet the needs of consumers and sustain innovation.

Eric Jing: A country with a strong internet sector needs many ingredients. China luckily has most of them, such as good internet infrastructure and a vast talent pool for the sector. It also has a large savvy population and a high mobile internet penetration rate, as well as supportive government policies.

When you have all of those ingredients, it is only natural to see cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hangzhou become talent magnets globally. The challenge is how you make the overall environment even more attractive to innovation. We need more collaboration between academia and industry to accelerate the process from research and development to application of new technologies. That will be the key to success.

Do you believe China’s experiences, or practices, related to technology and the internet can be used to solve global problems?

Cheng Wei: Yes, of course. China is the world’s largest and probably the most complex internet market. Tech companies can gain rich insight and develop advanced technological capabilities here, which will help them go further.

Take Didi as an example. The intensity of traffic congestions and mobility inefficiency in China is unparalleled. The services we have developed to deal with these problems can be used elsewhere. We have managed to introduce quite a few services, which we have created for China’s market, to the wider international communities.

Our minibus and hitch programs have been adopted respectively by our partners in Brazil and Southeast Asia, where they can perfectly meet local demands.

Han Kun: Yes, of course. One of the most important experiences gained from China’s sustained internet development has been innovation. Whether it is the portal era, the e-commerce era or the era of the shared economy, innovation has always been a driving force for development.

Eric Jing: Definitely. A large percentage of people are underserved in terms of financial services, especially in developing markets. Digital payment systems can greatly reduce the cost of serving customers, especially with basic financial services, such as savings accounts, and even wealth management.

Ant Financial’s technology capability and experience in providing digital financial services in China have stood the test of time and scale. For example, we processed 256,000 transactions per second during the peak of the Singles Day shopping festival. By working with our global partners, we are confident that the same technological capability can be leveraged in other parts of the world to make financial services more inclusive. It will give people equal opportunities.

In the past year, what changes in the internet and technology sectors have impressed you, and will they make an impact in the future?

Cheng Wei: One of the greatest revolutions is the integration of the three internets. That is the internet of information, the internet of energy, and the internet of transportation. This revolution is not only the result of technological advancement, but an inevitable choice to change a centuries old unsustainable model of development. Integration will change this.

Cars will not be owned but shared. Energy produced in an eco-friendly way will be connected to a web of charging stations. Transportation will be arranged and deployed on big data-powered platforms. Parking lots will make way for schools and green spaces.

The entire landscape of cities will be changed for the better.

Han Kun: During the past few years, China’s internet industry has gone through many changes and innovations. These include online to offline, or O2O, the shared economy, mobile live broadcasts and short video. Changes will affect our future since all of them are based on meeting people’s needs.

Eric Jing: Mobile payments moving into more offline areas and covering more geographical regions became an important change this year. The trend will dramatically change our lives and the real economy. We are already seeing rapid growth in the shared economy sector, such as bikes and home stay. And mobile payments are helping this industry grow.

How will artificial intelligence improve your business and how will you tap into the technology?

Cheng Wei: Didi caters for 25 million rides a day. Every single one is arranged, deployed and completed by the power of AI. Didi is fully committed to big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, which can continuously improve the efficiency of our platform.

Every day, we process 20 billion routing requests and deal with 15 billion location points. Didi’s AI capabilities are based on the enormous amount of data. By analyzing the behavior and locations of our users – both the drivers and the passengers – we are getting better at deploying capacities.

Han Kun: Artificial intelligence is affecting all industries and Yixia is no exception. We have already been applying this technology on our Miaopai and Yizhibo platforms.

In October, we cooperated with SenseTime and Star VC in exploring video advertisements using artificial intelligence and augmented reality in our content. The technology will also be applied to our Miaopai and Yizhibo platforms.

Eric Jing: AI is one of the pillars of our BASIC strategy – namely Blockchain, AI, Security, Internet of Things and Cloud Computing. The technology has tremendous potential to increase productivity, which is something we must continue to improve, so people can access more products and service.

Our AI capabilities include voice recognition, natural language processing and image recognition. We are already applying and constantly exploring new ways to use this technology in our products and services. For example, our AI powered real-time risk management platform, AlphaRisk, reduces fraud on Alipay with a loss rate of one in 1 million.

Another example of an AI application is the intelligent assistant within our Alipay app. It is able to handle interactions with a user by answering questions like a human being.

In the next five years, what will be the new internet and technology trends?

Cheng Wei: The integration of three internets, namely the internet of information, the internet of energy and the internet of transportation, will transform the landscape of cities.

Han Kun: Short video is hot within the internet industry and this trend will continue. With the development of the mobile internet, traditional image-text methods will give way to vivid, short videos. This is because video meets the needs of consumers looking for information.

The trend also gives us an advantage as Miaopai is now one of China’s most successful short video platforms. According to the latest data from QuestMobile, the leading big data service provider, our monthly user scale has exceeded 310 million for two consecutive months.

Eric Jing: Technologies, such as the internet of things, blockchain and biometrics, are going to expand quickly with wide application. Blockchain allows an online ledger to be open to public scrutiny, creating a level of trust that was not there before.

We are already piloting the application of blockchain in areas such as philanthropy and mutual insurance, so as to foster more trust-based growth.

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A Top Data Scientist at Uber Has Left the Company

Laszlo Korsos, a technologist developing Uber’s pricing systems, has left his position at the ride-hailing giant.

On Monday, Korsos joined hedge fund Citadel as a managing director and chief data officer. He had been a lead data scientist at Uber for three years.

“I am very excited about joining Citadel and helping the firm develop innovative ways to strategically manage the massive flow of Big Data that forms an important component of our investment strategies,” he told Fortune in a statement.

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Korsos began his career at The Blackstone Group as a summer analyst and went on to roles at Nuveen Investments and Goldman Sachs. He also previously worked as a consultant at Citadel Investment Group in Chicago for about a year.

He found out about Uber’s data scientist opportunity while climbing Mount Aconcagua, in Argentina, with a venture capitalist. “After seeing the opportunity to grow the mathematical technology across the company, I jumped at the chance to join the team,” he said in a 2014 interview.

In April of 2014, he joined Uber, where he founded and led its optimization and economics quant team. The team helped develop Uber’s pricing system technology–such as setting and optimizing fares–for projects including UberPool and UberEats.

Ken Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel, told Fortune in a statement: “Our ability to leverage big data effectively in our investment processes is critical to our success as a firm. Building on our current foundation, we are pleased to have a talent of Laszlo’s caliber joining our team.”

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