Baidu launches AR platform DuSee

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Chinese search giant Baidu is launching an AR (augmented reality) platform, DuSee, which allows users to interact with computer-generated visuals via their smartphones.

Unlike VR (virtual reality), consumers can access the tech through apps on existing devices, so there’s no need to buy a headset or a new phone. At a launch event this week, the company demonstrated how the Baidu Search app can be used to turn flat pictures, such as a map of Shanghai, into 3D images that can be enlarged or shrunk.

So far the app is being used by Baidu’s advertising clients, including L’Oreal, which has designed a greeting card that shoots out pink flowers when users view it through their phones.

Baidu said it could see the technology being used in areas such as education, healthcare and tourism. Pokemon Go has also proved that AR will be a driver for mobile games, although due to security issues, that worldwide gaming sensation is not likely to launch in China any time soon.

Indeed, Baidu’s Lin Yuanqing appeared to be referring to Pokemon Go in a press release about DuSee: “Many smartphone AR apps today work by pasting a cartoon on top of the camera image, regardless of that image’s contents. The next generation of AR apps will use AI to understand the 3D environment, and create virtual objects that have rich interactions with the user and the real world,” Lin said.

But it’s less obvious how the new tech will impact China’s rapidly expanding film and TV industries. Chinese online video sites and content creators – including Alibaba, LeEco and Baidu-owned iQiyi – are more focused on VR, which is easier to develop and has more obvious applications in the entertainment space. As an e-commerce giant, Alibaba is also exploring how VR can enhance the shopping experience.

The new tech comes at a critical time for Baidu, which needs some new tricks after a difficult couple of months. The company recently ran into regulatory trouble when a college student died after finding a therapy for his rare form of cancer on the search giant’s platform.

Following an investigation, Baidu promised to keep a closer eye on its advertisers, especially on medical forums, but the cleanup has had a negative impact on ad revenue. The company also raised the ire of third-party operators when it shut down commercial operations on its Baidu Tieba community forums.