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Baidu President Ya-Qin Zhang speaks at the 2017 GeekWire Summit Welcome Party at the Living Computers: Museum + Labs (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

Two Chinese tech giants with offices in the Seattle area are teaming up.

Baidu, the Chinese search giant, and smartphone maker Huawei said they have come to a “comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement” that will see the two companies team up on a variety of tech initiatives including artificial intelligence, augmented reality and speech recognition. The alliance gives Baidu and its more than 2,000-person AI group a top hardware partner to deliver the technology, and Huawei will be able to dive deeper into new technologies as it competes with Apple and Samsung in the smartphone market.

“It should come as no surprise that Baidu and Huawei are working together, because we have many similarities — technology is embedded in our DNA and we have developed our own technologies in order to grow,” Robin Li, Baidu Chairman and CEO said in a statement. “The Internet era is evolving into the era of AI. Baidu has been dedicated to the field of AI for a long time. Huawei has a large user base. Together, Baidu and Huawei can do many things which we were not able to do in the past.”

Among those many things is an open ecosystem for AI developers that combines Baidu’s AI and deep leaning capabilities and Huawei’s Neural Network Processing Unit. The partnership will also focus on image and voice recognition as well as building out an augmented reality network.

In the announcement of the new partnership, the two companies wrote that the mobile phone industry “has reached a critical point in its development and the next generation of smartphones is about to be born.” These new era smartphones will use technologies like voice recognition, machine vision and augmented and virtual reality to “become a natural extension of humans and an everyday AI assistant for consumers.”

Baidu Chairman and CEO, Robin Li, and CEO of Huawei Consumer Business Group, Richard Yu celebrate the new alliance between the two companies. (Baidu Photo)

“The future is all about smart devices that will actively serve us, not just respond to what we tell them to do,” Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, said in a statement. “With a strong background in R&D, Huawei will work with Baidu to accelerate innovation in the industry, develop the next generation of smartphones, and provide global consumers with AI that knows you better.”

Baidu in October opened a new office in the Seattle area. Long known as the leading Chinese-language Internet search engine, Baidu has made AI the second pillar of its business and expanded to areas such as financial services and cloud computing. It is seeking breakthroughs in computer vision, speech recognition, deep learning and natural language understanding.

The new Baidu office in downtown Bellevue, Wash., is starting with a small team that includes the leaders of Kitt.ai, the Seattle-based artificial intelligence startup acquired by Baidu this year. Baidu’s current space has room for as many as 40 people in the first year, depending on how quickly it’s able to recruit top engineers. Eventually, Baidu could grow to as many as “a couple hundred” people in the region.

Huawei opened an engineering center in Bellevue last year. The smartphone maker has also moved its U.S. consumer business to Bellevue, according to a report from the Puget Sound Business Journal.

It is unclear what roles the Seattle-area offices of Baidu and Huawei will play in the new partnership. But if they are frequent collaborators, it shouldn’t be a long trip as the two companies are not only located in the same city, they share a building.

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