Huawei working on smartphone which will ‘smell, taste, hear and see’ as well as humans

Chief of its consumer business says China’s biggest R&D spender, US$9.48 billion last year, will be the world’s largest within three years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 7:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 10:32pm

Huawei Technologies, the Chinese smartphone maker, plans to increase its artificial intelligence (AI) R&D spending, to create a smart device that will be able to smell, taste, hear and see, as well as a human being.

Speaking during the World Internet Conference on Thursday in Wuzhen, chief executive of its consumer business Richard Yu said: “Although we can’t make a smartphone with arms and legs like a human body, the future of smartphones will be a device that can smell, taste, hear and see.”

Its planned smartphone will be fitted with an air sensor, he said, which will be able to detect different smells, and another which will be able to distinguish sweet from sour, like a human tongue.

“The functions of smartphones will be very different in future on the back of big data, development in AI and deep learning, and will be able to do many things as well as their owners,” Yu said.

He added the device will have a smart voice recognition feature, allowing it to hear, and a computer vision feature to let it see.

“To some extent, devices can already surpass human abilities as they are backed by huge amounts of data which can be connected with other devices through cloud computing to achieve intelligent interaction,” he added.

Huawei is also studying what Yu calls a “local decision” feature, that will enable its smart devices to even think for themselves, without elaborating.

One of China’s leading telecommunications equipment providers, Huawei is already considered the country’s biggest R&D spender.

According to the 2016 Global Innovation 1000 Study, released last month by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, it spent US$9.48 billion on R&D, the highest budget in China, the world’s ninth largest. The study measured companies’ R&D spending for the full-year as of June 30 this year.

It ranked German carmaker Volkswagen as having the world’s largest R&D budget, US$13.2 billion, followed by Korean smartphone maker Samsung, which spent US$12.7 billion.

Yu said Huawei is likely to top that world R&D list within the next two to three years.

“We will make big investment in AI as we want to invest in the future of the society,” he said.