China's Baidu Enters 'Smart-Home' Arena -- WSJ

By Alyssa Abkowitz Features Dow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (November 17, 2017).

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

The company, which is best known as China's leading search engine, announced at its annual Baidu World conference on Thursday that it will 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 its core search business reaching maturity, Baidu is looking to use its AI capabilities in new enterprises. Last year, a medical scandal cut into its advertising revenue and led to a management shuffle.

The company's 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 gains while more ambitious ventures such as driverless cars are being developed.

While Amazon and Alphabet Inc.'s Google have established a market in the U.S. for smart-home devices, China's tech firms are just now fielding 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. Smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp.'s entry costs less than $50 and includes audiobooks and radio as content.

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While the market for smart speakers in China is still unknown, analysts say many companies are jumping in to gain consumer data. By ordering merchandise or choosing songs online, users 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.

Baidu's Raven H can hail a taxi, play a song or search for information on the company'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 controlled only by voice, Raven H has a base with a detachable touch screen, allowing a user to move about the home and control the device directly. It will be available next month for 1,699 yuan ($257).

Baidu didn't announce the price for the Raven R, which will be available next spring along with a third smart-home product, the Raven Q.

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 17, 2017 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)