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Apple-backed Uber rival Didi Chuxing opens R&D center in Silicon Valley

After acquiring Uber's China business last year, Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing has set its sights on Silicon Valley.

On Thursday, Didi opened a new research and development center — DiDi Labs — in Mountain View, California, where a team of scientists, engineers and researchers will look into the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in security and intelligent driving technologies.

The cities of Mountain View and Palo Alto, large company headquarters, with surrounding neighborhoods and the Oakland-Fremont area in the back of the frame.
David Pu'u | Getty Images
The cities of Mountain View and Palo Alto, large company headquarters, with surrounding neighborhoods and the Oakland-Fremont area in the back of the frame.

Didi's pivot to look into intelligent driving technologies follows the gamut of car companies and technology firms researching and testing autonomous vehicles. But the lab is also looking at projects in areas of cloud-based security, deep learning, human-machine interaction, computer vision and imaging.

"As the world's leading mobility platform, DiDi has invested in five industry leaders around the world. Building on rich data and fast-evolving AI analytics, we will be working with cities and towns to build intelligent transportation ecosystems for the future.," said Cheng Wei, founder, chairman and CEO of Didi Chuxing in a press statement.

In a bid to become the world's leading mobile transportation player, Didi has invested extensively. In January, it invested an undisclosed amount in Brazilian ride-hailing service 99.

Previously, Didi invested $100 million in Uber's U.S. rival, Lyft, and participated in a $350 million funding round for Southeast Asian ride-hailing service Grab as well as investing in India's Ola Cabs — following that, the four companies formed a global rideshare partnership that reached nearly 50 percent of the world's population.

DiDi Labs will be led by Fengmin Gong who is vice president of DiDi Research Institute. The company has also hired dozens of data scientists and researchers, including Charlie Miller.

Miller, a cybersecurity researcher, along with Chris Valasek previously demonstrated to WIRED how they could remotely hijack a Chrysler Jeep's digital systems over the internet. Before taking his role at DiDi Labs, Miller worked for Uber to make their autonomous cars secure.

Didi said it expects to rapidly expand its U.S.-based team of scientists and engineers over the course of the year.