Alibaba Cloud, the digital technologies arm of Alibaba Group, unveiled a series of innovative products at its 12th annual Apsara Conference, saying it wants to help people adapt to the more digitised world and accelerate customers’ digital transformation during and after the pandemic.
The Chinese tech giant revealed its first Cloud computer, a palm-sized personal computer which, despite being just about 60 grams and as light as an egg, offers high-performance computing, thanks to robust back-end Cloud resources.
By simply connecting the Cloud computer with a normal computer screen, a user can access almost unlimited computing resources anytime, anywhere, while paying on a subscription model or for the actual Cloud consumption.
“We hope our Cloud computer can help people access resilient computing power whenever they need to, so they can conduct complex tasks which usually require sophisticated and powerful PCs, such as video editing, animation rendering, software development, and online customer services, with a tiny personal computer at hand now,” said Jeff Zhang, President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.
“As working from home becomes the new normal during and after the pandemic, we believe our innovation can also help users more easily enjoy the benefits of Cloud computing anytime, anywhere, in a cost-effective yet secure way.”
With robust computing power, the Cloud computer can reduce the rendering time of one frame of high-resolution animation from 90 minutes using a traditional PC, down to only 10 minutes. In addition, the Cloud computer’s system upgrades are conducted online, saving a big chunk of the normally heavy cost of PC machine upgrades and maintenance in traditional office settings.
Through Alibaba Cloud’s self-developed app-streaming protocol, which is designed for synergy between the Cloud and the device, users can also purchase and access licensed apps and programs such Linux and Windows as well as various office applications.
All user data will be stored on Cloud for datacentre-grade security and protection measures. Available initially for enterprise customers, the Cloud computers will be also available for purchase by individual consumers in the near future.
Alibaba Cloud also unveiled its autonomous logistics robot for last-mile deliveries. Developed by the Alibaba DAMO Academy, the global research initiative by Alibaba Group, the delivery robot can carry 50 packages at one time and cover 62 miles (or 100 kilometres) on a single charge.
It is estimated the mobile robot should be able to deliver as many as 500 packages a day to one designated community or campus, meeting the rising demand for speedy last-mile delivery in China. Online shopping is booming there, with 200 million packages delivered daily and expectations that will rise to over a billion packages per day in the coming years.
“We are expecting a rapid spike of delivery demands brought by the thriving New Retail and local services businesses in the increasingly digitalised world,” said Zhang.
“To meet the strong delivery demand for our internal business growth and for the larger society, we have been investing in smart logistics, including logistics robots, for years. We are glad to launch our latest mobile delivery robot, which we will support Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics platform, to serve communities, campuses and business parks in China.”
Zhang said, “Moving ahead, we aim to support the delivery needs of our local services businesses and leverage our technologies for other types of service robots, such as service robots in the airport and tourism guide robots in scenic spots.”
Supported with reinforced learning technologies, the intelligent robot can schedule its route even in a crowded environment. With proprietary, high-definition positioning technology, the robot can operate even where there is weak or no GPS signal.
Leveraging a self-developed heterogeneous computing platform, 3D Point Cloud Semantic Segmentation (PCSS) technology and deep learning, the robot can also identify obstacles and predict the intended movement of passengers and vehicles a few seconds ahead of time to enhance safety.
Consumers can use either the Cainiao or Taobao mobile apps to select a preferred timeslot during the day for delivery. The robot then arrives at the designated destination, where users retrieve their packages simply by entering a passcode they receive in the app, once the robot arrives.
A number of Cloud-native products were unveiled during the Conference:
- Cloud Lakehouse The next-generation big data architecture which can deliver significant data-based values and intelligence through cross-platform computing, intelligent cache, hot/cold data separation, storage improvement and performance acceleration.
- Sandboxed-Container 2.0 Alibaba’s Cloud-native container service for Kubernetes supports clusters that provide sandboxed container runtimes. The new Sandboxed-Container 2.0 enables customers to run applications in lightweight sandboxed environments with faster speeds and reduced cost of runtime resources.
- PAI-DSW 2.0 The latest Cloud-native Machine-learning Interactive Development Platform by Alibaba. It aims to provide an optimal environment for developers that is easy to use, compatible with community plug-ins and supports multi-development environments like JupyterLab, WebIDE and Terminal.
- Lindorm The Cloud-native multi-model database that is used to support the Alibaba Group ecosystem is introduced to benefit the wider Alibaba Cloud ecosystem. Lindorm is a Cloud-native database, with affordable storage and flexible processing characteristics. It is designed for applications with massive processing requirement for a mixture of unstructured, semi-structured, and structured data.
The conference, named “Leap Into the Future of Digital Intelligence,” was entirely hosted online for the first time, with over 100 virtual forums on topics ranging from Cloud computing and IoT to machine learning and industrial AI solutions.