Baidu Sends Raven to Bring Artificial Intelligence Into Chinese Homes

By Alyssa Abkowitz Features Dow Jones Newswires

Expanding its push into artificial-intelligence technologies, Chinese internet giant Baidu Inc. is entering the "smart home" product market with an intelligent speaker and personal robot.

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The company that is best known as China's leading search engine announced plans at its annual Baidu World conference Thursday to begin selling two home assistants similar to Amazon.com Inc.'s Echo that can execute commands such as playing songs or videos using voice recognition.

With revenue from its core search business reaching saturation, Baidu is looking to use its AI capabilities to move into new businesses. Last year, its sales were hit by a medical scandal that caused advertising revenue to decline and led to a management shuffle.

The Raven line of smart-home products, which will be sold in the Chinese market to start, is seen as a way to generate short-term revenue while more ambitious ventures such as driverless cars are being developed.

Unlike in the U.S., where Amazon and Alphabet Inc.'s Google have led the market in smart-home devices, China's tech firms are just now launching such products. Earlier this year, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. launched the Tmall Genie, a voice-assistant controlled speaker, and Tencent Holdings Ltd. announced a similar product called Xiaowei this summer. Smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp.'s version costs less than $50 and includes audiobooks and radio as content.

While it is still too early to tell how the market for smart speakers will fare in China, analysts say many companies are jumping in to gain consumer data. By ordering merchandise or choosing songs online, consumers give device companies a wealth of data that can be used to offer additional products and services, said Kitty Fok, China managing director at consulting firm IDC.

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Baidu's Raven H can hail a taxi, play a song or search for information on Baidu's search engine. The second product, Raven R, is a stationary robot that provides similar functions as the Raven H, but can also move on an axis, allowing it to dance along to music.

Unlike other smart speakers that are only controlled by voice, Raven H has a base with a detachable touch screen, allowing a user to move about the home and still control the device. It will be available next month for 1,699 yuan ($257).

Baidu didn't announce the price for the Raven R. Both the Raven R and Raven Q will be available next spring.

Write to Alyssa Abkowitz at alyssa.abkowitz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 16, 2017 06:09 ET (11:09 GMT)