The autonomous driving industry doesn't have the greatest reputation right now.
That's particularly true following the death of a pedestrian from a self-driving Uber car and a fatal car accident that occurred while a driver was using Tesla's (TSLA) Autopilot feature (although the automaker has said the driver failed to adhere to the car's warnings).
Despite the concerns over autonomous driving, it's not preventing companies from pushing forward in their efforts. Just this month, Ford Motor Co (F) gave some color on its plans, while Intel Corporation (INTC) , General Motors Co (GM) , Alphabet Inc (GOOG) (GOOGL) via Waymo and Nvidia Corporation (NVDA) -- the last two of which are holdings in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio -- continue to make progress too.
While the auto industry is old, autonomous driving is still quite young. A lot of players can still emerge and a new one is doing just that: Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA) .
The Chinese tech giant is hiring 50 additional self-driving car experts and will be looking to test level 4 autonomous driving technology. For those unaware, autonomous driving has levels ranging from 0 (no features) to 5 (fully autonomous). Here are what each of the levels mean.
Alibaba began quietly testing autonomous driving technologies last year, led by Wang Gang, the chief scientist of Alibaba's A.I. Labs. Despite its late start, Alibaba appears to be moving quickly. Although it will be playing catch up to Baidu (BIDU) and Tencent (TCEHY) , which already have approval from Chinese regulators for open-road testing.
In fact, Baidu is considered the current "champion" of autonomous driving in China with its Apollo platform.
Alibaba's foray into self-driving cars comes as no surprise. Consider that the company sports a $440 billion market cap and has its hands in everything from cloud computing, video, e-commerce and dozens of other business segments. The company has also made clear its intentions to play an active role in connecting the world through devices and to even manage city traffic.
We have looked at what companies could be big winners in the autonomous driving race. At the time, Alibaba was not one of them. But given its R&D budget and Chinese consumers' strong demand for self-driving technology, we can't rule Baba out now.
Alibaba will have to build something on par with Baidu's Apollo before we can start truly debating about a winner, (although both companies easily both win in the long-term).