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Chinese tech giant Baidu is making a play for the next big thing after cloud computing (BIDU)


Robin Li Baidu

  • On Wednesday, Chinese cloud company and search giant Baidu announced OpenEdge, the first open source edge computing platform out of the country. 
  • Edge computing is poised to become the next thing after cloud computing — it brings processing power to "edge devices" like smart home appliances and wearables.
  • China's open source community is growing, and Baidu has previously led other open source platforms like the autonomous driving platform Apollo and the artificial intelligence framework PaddlePaddle.
  • Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services are investing heavily in edge computing, as well. 

Baidu has just announced China's first open source edge computing platform – reflecting the country's growing open source community. 

Baidu, a cloud company and search giant sometimes known as the "Google of China," unveiled OpenEdge at the Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday.

"Edge computing is becoming more commonplace due to the rise of IoT devices," Zun Wang, a Baidu spokesperson, told Business Insider. "It brings different kinds of compute power, especially for AI processing, to the edges of your network, allowing close proximity of your data source with the cloud."

Edge computing means that the processing power is shifted away from the cloud and towards the "edge"— which is to say closer to the users who are using it. For example, edge devices might be gadgets people use each day, such as PCs, smartphones and tablets, or Internet of Things gadgetry like wearables and smart home appliances.

With OpenEdge, developers can build their own edge computing systems and deploy them on various devices and hardware. This platform include features that allow users program devices to collect data, send messages to each other, and generally "learn" from user behavior. 

Previously, Baidu has led other open source projects like Apollo, its autonomous driving platform, and PaddlePaddle, an artificial intelligence framework. It also offers cloud services that are based on open source software created by other companies. 

However, this is Baidu's first open source initiative in edge computing, and the first coming out of China. Baidu hopes open sourcing this will improve the development of edge computing globally. It's generally believed in the industry that developments in artificial intelligence, coupled with the rising demand for smart gadgets, self-driving cars, and industrial robotics, mean that edge computing will be the next big thing after cloud computing.

Read more: One of the biggest trends in tech over the last decade has been the shift to cloud computing — and we're seeing the first signs of what might be next

"The explosive growth of IoT devices and rapid adoption of AI is fueling great demand for edge computing," Watson Yin, Baidu Vice President and GM of Baidu Cloud, said in a statement. "And by providing an open source platform, we have also greatly simplified the process for developers to create their own edge computing applications."

More recently, Baidu has been focusing on artificial intelligence and cloud computing. OpenEdge was originally designed as a part of Baidu Intelligent Edge, a commercial software product that works with Baidu Cloud, and will include functions to manage different edge computing applications.

"We wanted to let developers build their own edge computing system as well as contribute functions and edge apps to the existing platform," said Wang, the Baidu spokesperson.

McFly, an agriculture technology company, has used Baidu's software in drones to collect data about crops that helps it lower pesticide use. This is just one possible application of edge computing.

Similarly, Microsoft Azure also has an open source edge computing project, and offers edge computing services to developers. Amazon Web Services also offers edge computing services, but the underlying software is not available as open source. 

Currently, China is seeing its slowest growth in decades, but despite the economic slowdown, analysts predict Baidu's annual revenue increased by 20% in 2018.

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