China’s Baidu, Xiaomi in AI pact to create smart connected devices

The two technology companies are joining forces to develop advanced new consumer electronics products that aim to increase the adoption of artificial intelligence around the world.

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 3:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 11:07pm

Chinese online search giant Baidu is teaming up with major smartphone supplier Xiaomi to develop advanced consumer electronics products powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and connected to the internet of things (IoT).

The two companies announced their collaboration at Xiaomi’s first IoT Developer Conference on Tuesday in Beijing, where senior management laid out their vision of smart devices that will deliver what they expect as more enhanced experience to users.

It is an alliance that could play to each company’s strength: Baidu has been making an aggressive transition to becoming an AI-first technology company, while Xiaomi has said it has more than 85 million connected devices based on the range of products that it sells – including smartphones, laptop computers, air purifiers, robot vacuum cleaners, coffee makers and electric scooters.

More importantly, their cooperation comes on the heels of the Chinese government’s initiative to foster a highly innovative and competitive domestic AI market, which it forecast to be worth about US$150 billion by 2030.Lu Qi, the vice-chairman and chief operating officer at Baidu, said the company’s pact with Xiaomi will lead to the next stage of AI development in China.

With more than 60 years of international development behind it, AI is an umbrella term covering several related technologies that include machine learning, cognitive computing, natural language processing and so-called neural networks.

IoT represents a super network of networks, enabled by internet-linked sensors embedded in everyday objects that gather, send and receive data, as well as controlled via mobile application.

Kirk Boodry, an analyst with New Street Research, said Baidu’s AI and software expertise provided “a good match” with Xiaomi’s strength in hardware and distribution.

“An alliance with Xiaomi may not move the needle financially, but it does extend Baidu’s AI influence in China,” said Boodry.

Nasdaq-listed Baidu and Xiaomi could provide competition against the likes of US technology giants Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple, which have all been sharpening their focus on bringing AI to the home through smart speaker systems, smartphones and other devices.

Earlier this month, Baidu unveiled its own AI-powered, voice-activated smart speaker system called Raven H. This device competes in a crowded domestic market where more than 100 local brands offer a broad range of smart speakers.

In July, Baidu stepped up its AI efforts in the field of autonomous driving by joining forces with Microsoft. Their collaboration will form part of the initiatives under Project Apollo open autonomous driving platform, which Baidu launched in April.

Xiaomi, which research firm Counterpoint has ranked as the world’s sixth-largest smartphone supplier, recently obtained a US$1 billion loan from a syndicate of banks to fund its global expansion.