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Amazon’s Alexa. Microsoft’s Cortana. Apple’s Siri. The Google Assistant. They’re among the world’s most popular voice assistants, but a Chinese up-and-comer — Baidu’s DuerOS — is joining the ranks. Baidu yesterday announced that its conversational AI assistant has reached an install base of 100 million devices, up from 50 million just six months ago.

DuerOS, for the uninitiated, is a suite of software developer kits (SDKs), APIs, and turnkey solutions that allow original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to quickly integrate Baidu’s voice platform with smart speakers, refrigerators, washing machines, set-top boxes, and more. To date, its more than 200 partners have launched 110 DuerOS-powered devices.

A few high-profile examples are Xiaoyu Zaijia (“Little Fish” in English), an Amazon Echo Show-like device with a swiveling screen and camera, and Baidu’s Xiaodu Smart Speaker, which launched in June 2018 and sold out within 90 seconds of availability.

There’s a marketplace component, too — software developers can create “skills” accessible through DuerOS devices. More than 16,000 are actively contributing, and in November 2017, Baidu launched a $1 million fund and open dataset — the DuerOS Prometheus Project — aimed at “fostering talent” in the conversational AI space.


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“DuerOS leverages Baidu’s leading AI technologies and a vast content ecosystem to provide an unmatched user experience in conversational AI,” Kun Jing, general manager of Baidu’s Smart Living Group, said in a statement. “We are seeing voice input gaining huge adoption in China. By leveraging Baidu’s AI technology, which has the largest indexing of Chinese web pages and a better multi-modal semantic understanding of the Chinese language, DuerOS is uniquely positioned for the shift to conversational AI in China.”

Baidu also reiterated that it’s collaborating with smartphone makers Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, and others to integrate DuerOS into future flagships, and that it’s working with InterContinental Hotel Group to bring voice-controllable “smart rooms” to rooms in China. Lastly, it said that it’s collaborating with automakers such as BMW, Daimler, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Chery, BAIC, FAW, and Byton to bring voice, image, and facial recognition technologies to cars.

No matter how you slice it, DuerOS’s growth is impressive. Still, it has a long way to go before it catches up to incumbents like the Google Assistant, which is available on more than 400 million devices. Luckily for Baidu, there’s plenty of growth potential — ComScore estimates that by 2020, a full 30 percent of searches will be done without a screen.

In an interview with VentureBeat last year, Baidu executive Kun Jing said that Baidu intends to make DuerOS “one of the most widely used conversational AI platforms” in the world.

“We used to be a search company, but in the AI era, we want to be an AI platform company. So to be a platform company is really about the mindset and also about the opening up of technology, the basic framework [to] enable others, enable our partners, even enable individuals to do something great,” Jing said.

[Conversational AI platforms will be among the topics debated at VentureBeat’s executive-level Transform event, near SF on August 21 & 22. The event focuses on how to harness AI to grow your business.]

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