Chinese search giant Baidu is making its boldest move yet into artificial intelligence, unveiling a new line of AI-powered hardware called “Raven” — including a distinctive smart speaker with colorful layers and a detachable display controller; and a personal robot that sits on the table and uses its six human-like joints to move flexibly as it reacts to users and expresses emotions.
The company is announcing the devices tonight at the Baidu World technology conference in Beijing, along with another concept home robot. The Raven devices will run Baidu’s DuerOS conversational AI platform.
The smart speaker, dubbed “raven H,” is the first AI hardware made directly by Baidu, according to the company. It will be available starting next month for the equivalent of $256.
Here’s how Baidu explains how the artificial intelligence technology works.
The unique design of raven H provides users with a seamless experience. For example, if a user asks the device when is the time for Liverpool Football Club’s next match, raven H would not only give the user an answer, but also automatically follow up with a question of whether the user would like to set an alarm to watch the game. If the user says yes, the device would then set the alarm and automatically turn on the TV before the match starts.
With the devices, Baidu joins several other major technology companies — most notably Google and Amazon — developing their own consumer hardware as platforms for their voice-based AI assistants.
Baidu’s Raven devices will only be sold in China for now, but Baidu’s top executives — including President Ya-Qin Zhang and COO Qi Lu, both former high-ranking Microsoft execs — have global ambitions. Baidu opened an artificial intelligence and cloud engineering center in the Seattle region in October, supplementing its existing Silicon Valley engineering operations.
Here’s our interview with Zhang at the GeekWire Summit in October, with more on the company’s plans.