Baidu’s virtual assistant ‘Duer’ given dedicated business unit
Firm also reveals acquisition of Beijing startup Raven Tech, a specialist in applying voice-controlled artificial intelligence to smart home systems
Baidu, China’s largest online search engine operator, has set up a new specialist unit focusing on developing (its conversational artificial intelligence (AI)-powered robot as it looks to prioritise commercialising voice-activated devices and services.
The Nasdaq-listed Baidu said on Thursday it had created the Duer Business Unit, as it heightens its development focus on “Duer”, the company’s AI-powered digital assistant that can connect people with services through conversational user interface.
Functioning similar to Apple’s personal assistant “Siri”, Duer – first unveiled in September 2015 as an conversational AI system – has become the cornerstone of Baidu’s innovation in various voice-activated products, including a voice-activated TV assistant and a family robot with video chat and streaming capabilities.
As well the new business unit, Baidu also announced its acquisition on Thursday of the Beijing startup Raven Tech, a specialist in applying voice-controlled artificial intelligence to smart home systems.
Neither party revealed the value of the takeover, but Baidu said Raven Tech’s 27-year-old founder Lu Cheng will now lead the company’s smart home devices business, working with its Duer team.
He will report directly to the tech giant’s newly appointed chief operating officer, Lu Qi, who leads the company’s products, technology, sales, and marketing and operations divisions.
Raven Tech is Baidu’s latest acquisition of an AI-focused company, underlining a shift in the firm’s overall business model towards AI, under former Microsoft global executive vice president Lu Qi, who joined in January.
“It (the Raven acquisition) is key for Baidu to have a leading position in human/machine interaction and built up core strength in software and hardware integration,” he said in an internal statement to staff on the acquisition.
Founded in 2014, Raven Tech has already made a strong name for itself in the field of human/mobile interaction with a string of products including a voice-enabled music search app called Music Flow, which has millions of users.
Embedded with an AI assistant, Flow is described by the company as the world’s first “IM+AI Chatbot”. Voice or text massages can activate Chatbot, and Flow can also be ordered to help in services, including hailing a taxi or offering navigation services.
Raven’s H-1, a smart home controlling system, is the company’s latest product to enable people control over their home appliances via voice or text commands.
Raven has previously raised tens of millions of US dollars in investment from ZhenFund, Matrix Partners China, Y Combinator, DCM, and Magic Stone Alternative.
The company has won several awards for product design excellence and was the fifth alumni of Microsoft Venture Accelerator.