Baidu Saves Your Battery

The Chinese search giant wants to keep your EV charged up.

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Electric vehicles may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Baidu, but the Chinese search giant wants to make sure you stay charged. 

The company is seeking to patent a system for “recommending a charging station” and determining the wait time at that station. Baidu’s system isn’t terribly complicated, essentially using your location data to recommend the most optimal station. 

Using a pre-trained recommendation AI model, Baidu’s system takes into account all surrounding stations, your estimated arrival time at any given station, and each station’s “charge pile” — the wait-time estimate calculated by the number of vehicles ahead of you with reservations and the estimated time it’ll take them to charge.  

With that information, it determines the most ideal station in terms of distance, wait times and arrival times. Baidu claims its system cuts down “unnecessary queuing,” so that the “time cost of vehicle charging is decreased, and traveling experience of the owner of the electric vehicle is optimized.” 

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

China dominates the electric vehicle market. EVs accounted for a quarter of all cars sold in China in 2022, Bloomberg reported this week, and clean car sales in the country — which includes plug-in hybrids — hit 5.6 million. HSBC expects EV penetration to reach 90% in the country by 2030. (EVs made up around 5.7% of all new US car sales in 2022). 

Solid charging infrastructure plays a major role in EV popularity, said Matt McCaffree, VP of utility market development at clean energy parking and mobility company Flash. According to Bloomberg’s report, China had more than 6 million EV chargers at the end of May, the most of any country globally. Plus, charging standards are uniform, so anyone can plug in at any station.  

Though demand for EVs in China outpaced that of all vehicles, the country has the “biggest growth market for vehicles, period, ” McCaffree said. “This is the perfect environment and the ideal set of circumstances for expansion.” 

Companies like BYD, Tesla and SAIC-GM-Wuling lead in the Chinese auto market. While Baidu has been plugging away at EVs for a while, touting both self-driving and conversational AI capabilities in its cars, the company is a relatively small fish in China’s EV pond. By offering a service that works in tandem with EVs, Baidu may be seeking to capitalize on the country’s rapidly growing market and boost consumer confidence in EVs, said McCaffree. 

“It’s a matter of taking advantage of growth in the market and growth in popularity, and recognizing the need for drivers to have visibility into the charging network and what’s available,” said McCaffree. “There is a recognized need to create consumer confidence in charging.” 

However, it’s unclear whether Baidu will actually be able to obtain this patent, said McCaffree. Similar tech already exists on the market, he noted. Baidu may have a harder time proving that its tech is novel and unique from others in order to claim it as it’s own. 

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