There has recently been an influx of reports about the development of AI-powered digital assistants from every other technology behemoth. And joining the trend today is Chinese search giant Baidu. It has acquired Y Combinator-backed startup Raven Tech, which was working on their own voice-enabled AI assistant platform.
The financial terms of the transaction haven’t been disclosed by either party, but Baidu had confirmed the acquisition. The search giant has brought in the company’s intellectual property, technology products, and its 60-member strong team. Also, it is being reported that Raven Tech’s founder Cheng Lu will join Baidu as their smart home hardware operations lead. He will report to Qi Lu.
This development is also accompanied along with the launch of a new specialist unit for the creation of conversational AI assistants. This division within Baidu has been named ‘Duer Business Unit’ and prioritizes the creation of their personal assistant Duer. The said assistant was unveiled back in September 2015 as an important innovation for integration in various voice-activated products. Cheng will also work with the said division to consult on the development on their AI platform.
Headquartered in China, Raven Tech was founded by a trio of individuals Rui Xi, Cheng Lu, Yiming Wu in May 2014. The company debuted with a focus on the development of an AI-powered, data-driven, next-generation operating system. The startup was also a part of Microsoft Venture Accelerator and Y Combinator. It had also raised a massive $18 million from investors including DCM Ventures and Zhenfund to build the said platform.
But it also released an app called Flow, a Chinese version of Apple’s widely popular voice assistant Siri. Tech In Asia, who broke the news, says that Raven Tech failed to make their product a success. It slacked behind in the Apple app store and never made it beyond the top 700 rankings. This was the case because Apple upgraded its voice assistant Siri to support Mandarin and there were other third-party services from other local competitors such as Xiaomi, LeEco and even Baidu itself.
The said development also comes on the heels of the company’s recent hiring of former Microsoft executive Dr. Qi Lu as Group President and COO. This change is effective immediately and he will be held responsible for products, technology, sales, marketing, and operations. He will also be working with the entire Baidu team (now Raven Tech as well) to build Baidu’s AI strategy and bank upon this tremendous opportunity.