China’s Baidu launches metaverse app to lead the race

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On December 27th, 2021, Baidu’s AI products were shown at the company’s annual conference.

Chinese internet giant Baidu unveiled their metaverse app – which was used to host the company’s annual developer conference – on Monday. This is seen as part of the country’s wider effort to enter the global race for supremacy in next-generation technology.

The Monday event is seen as an example of major local internet companies trying to succeed in the incredibly popular arena. Whoever takes the lead in creating a metaverse will have a huge advantage over the other players, be it the company looking for new engines of growth, or countries who are trying to increase their virtual strength.

Nonetheless, the push for a domestic metaverse should alert companies to a looming gap in technologies, specifically digital humans that are hyper-realistic. At this point, foreign offerings have been leading the way and there’s still catching up to do. The situation is worsened by the fact that most PLA products are entry-level models, according to China Quality Market Intelligence. Baidu (百度), known for its expertise in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous driving, unveiled Xirang (西柒), literally “land of hope.” 

Baidu launches metaverse

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The three-day conference, started on Monday, can be attended via the Xirang app. This enables a whopping 100,000 people to attend from anywhere in the world. There are around 100 speakers so far and according to the company, it’s China’s first of its kind virtual reality education platform.

They won’t be able to fully explore it, but users can login and explore without the need of a VR headset. They created a rotating joint virtual surface (like a Möbius strip) which looks like planet Earth and lets participants interact with each other. The participants will be able to interact with other attendees via conference PCs, smart phones or wearable devices.

Meta’s new platform felt like a throwback to Horizon Worlds, which opened up access to people aged 18 and over in the US and Canada starting December 9. It’s been a big week for virtual reality in China with Baidu launching a new platform and some major announcements from NetEase. Earlier this month, NetEase announced its next-generation internet technology framework.

Tencent made an impressive announcement this Friday by ramping up the release of its music arm’s new TMELAND platform. The first VR music carnival in China will be taking place on the 31st of December. E-commerce giant Alibaba has also announced their own “Yuanjing Shengsheng” company, preparing an online virtual reality shopping event. They’re starting a new unit on December 6th, with registered capital of 10 million yuan ($1.57 million). This is to pave the way for Alibaba to expand into metaverse-based gaming.

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An influential high profile app on the domestic market reflects the eagerness of internet companies to establish an early foothold on trendy technologies all over the world, says Xiang Anling, a PhD candidate on the Communications Faculty of China’s Tsinghua University. Xiang was one of the coauthors of a valuable report on the metaverse that has been translated into several languages and is currently among the most quoted manuals for the sector.

Digitalization and the digital economy have had a major impact on the way we think about things, and this includes what might be deemed our geographical location. Today these considerations extend into virtual spaces- such as the Metaverse that China Mobile is preparing for.

The Metaverse is essentially web 3.0, or the integration of cutting-edge digital techs like cloud computing, distributed storage, VR, AR etc. The metaverse provides a wide range of opportunities for better social media & business interactions to improve user experience.

Yu believes that technologies like the metaverse will make it easier for economies to integrate more seamlessly, which will play a big part in the country’s push towards becoming more technologically innovative. An example of this is Facebook rebranding itself as Meta. Metaverses are becoming more than just commercial worlds, which is why President Putin advised that people take advantage of it for educational or communication purposes despite having to travel. South Korea and Japan come to mind as the first countries to launch government-led initiatives for exploring future growth possibilities through metaverse.

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As Xiang points out, however they’re still a way away before domestic metaverse products could compete with those from the US.

Xirang is a great app, but it hardly comes close to the experience offered by Horizon Worlds. It does have the advantage of not requiring installation of any VR equipment though.

Foreign entities are holding back the production of hyper-realistic humans, which are an essential part of the metaverse, according to Xiang. Xiang appeals for more money to be invested in research so that China can catch up to other countries who are achieving success through innovating their business models. The mobile internet age has created opportunities for Chinese companies, but they must keep investing in research.

Baidu is one of the companies leading the push into VR/AR, and it seems to recognise that there’s a gap between what’s currently on offer. Ma Jie, a VP at Baidu said that development of Xirang was started in December and it could be as long as six years before the app becomes fully accessible. Media reports estimated a timeline of about six years.

While a lot of people are excited for the imminent development of a metaverse, Zhao said the progress will be gradual and depend on if we break through some important technological bottlenecks. He enumerated key technologies including cloud computing, AI, Edge Computing, VR & AR.

Also Read:

Metaverse Past, Present and Future, All You Need to Know About Metaverse

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