In addition to Huawei, another Chinese tech giant is making moves this week to develop its own voice assistant. Chinese search engine Baidu recently announced its purchase of Raven Tech, a startup specializing in AI voice assistant platform development. This acquisition is yet another sign that the company is looking to AI and machine learning as a new business opportunity. Last September, the company launched a $200 million venture capital fund dedicated to AI technology and research. Then in January, Baidu hired leading artificial intelligence expert and former Microsoft executive Qi Lu to be the group’s president and COO.
Like it’s Western counterpart Google, Baidu sees an opportunity for revenue growth in voice-enabled search. And the company needs a new revenue stream. Recent regulatory restrictions have plagued Baidu’s paid search business, with the company reporting its first-ever decline in Q3 2016. Raven Tech’s expertise could help the company move quickly into the growing voice assistant market. The startup has already launched a mobile voice assistant app called Flow and has been developing the Raven H-1, a voice assistant device for the home. While its Flow app has seen little success (the app never moved past the 700 ranking in the Chinese app store), Raven Tech now has the power of Baidu behind it. This partnership could be a way for both companies to remake themselves in the eyes of Chinese consumers.