China's Baidu recently announced the AI product "ERNIE Bot," which uses the second generation of Kunlun AI chip in its model. Besides focusing on AI chip development, Baidu is also focusing on applying Kunlun chips to autonomous driving. Recently, Chinese automaker BYD has invested in Kunlun to expand its planning for high-end autonomous vehicles (AV).
In 2021, Baidu's smart chip and architecture department completed its independent fundraising and established Kunlun Xin (Kunlun Semiconductor). Ouyang Jian, Baidu's chief chip architect, became CEO of Kunlun Xin. Baidu is the largest stakeholder in the company with a 70.87% share. In fact, the core R&D team of Kunlun Xin already worked on AI architecture computing within Baidu way back in 2011.
As of now, Kunlun AI chip has already had two iterations. Kunlun Gen 1 has already deployed over 20,000 units in businesses like Baidu's search engine and the DuerOS. Kunlun Gen 2 also achieved mass production in August 2021. It was also introduced to the ERNIE deep learning model.
In terms of autonomous driving, the Kunlun chip series is the core of Baidu's Apollo software platform. Apollo is a software platform provided to Baidu partners in the automotive and AV sectors. The system was constructed based on the ERNIE model's "Perception 2.0" architecture.
Kunlun Gen 2 has already been applied to the driving system of Baidu's self-driving vehicle RoboTaxi. According to sources, the chip is built using the 7nm process. Armed with a GDDR6 highspeed VRAM, the memory bandwidth can reach 512GB/s. It uses the latest Kunlun XPU-R architecture.
Ouyang Jian once stated that future in-vehicle computing systems must be relatively open. It can provide users with a computing system that has high computing power and high versatility, while also being able to satisfy the customized demand of clients. In the future, Kunlun Xin will also consider designing a high-performance automotive SoC targeting high-end AVs.
As for the progress of the latest generation of chips, the GM of Baidu's intelligent cloud computing solutions and Operations department Song Fei and Kunlun Xin strategic director Song Chunxiao both stated that the third generation of Kunlun chips will begin mass production in early 2024. It will also use the XPU-R architecture.
It is worth noting that BYD has recently invested CNY58,000 (US$8420.56) in Kunlun Xin, acquiring about 0.3% of the shares. Although the investment amount is small, it shows that BYD is further expanding its plans in the field of AVs.