Google may be the king of search engines in the western world, but Baidu holds that crown in the country with the highest number of internet users – China. Now the company wants to launch its own smart speaker to go up against the Google Home and Amazon Echo, although the speakers won’t directly compete, as Baidu’s offering will only be available in China.
Unlike the Google Home, the Raven H from Baidu has a unique design that looks like no other smart speaker on the market. That’s no mistake either, as it was designed by a Swedish design company called Teenage Engineering. The Swedes are known for flat pack furniture and quirky designs, and this smart speaker is reminiscent of both of those things.
While the Raven H will be the product most users will by, Teenage Engineering actually has two new smart speakers – although the Raven R is arguably a fully-fledged home robot. That’s because it boasts a pivoting arm that can move freely in any direction, and it also boasts a touch-sensitive LED screen.
The Raven H is the first product from the Raven series since Baidu acquired Raven Tech, a start-up that developed an AI voice assistant platform, in February 2017. Its unique design features a detachable LED display touch controller that can be carried around to ask questions on the go, or to control smart home devices.
When looking at the Raven H it resembles nothing else currently available to those looking for a smart speaker. Its design is quirky with a colourful toy-like exterior, while Teenage Engineering has also given it a personality – with the display popping up to listen to voice commands as if it’s facing the user.
Outside of aesthetics and personality, the Raven H is a smart speaker that is designed to perform many of the same functions that users would expect from a Google Home and Amazon Echo. That means it will answer questions, play music, order a taxi, control smart home devices, and allow users to search Baidu’s vast database of information.
Powering all those commands is DuerOS2.0, which is admittedly not the catchiest name for an AI assistant, but it’s one that is quite powerful. That’s because it will automatically ask follow-up questions based on relevant commands. That means if a user asks when the next Liverpool match is, the speaker will respond with the answer and then ask whether a reminder should be set.
On the music front, users will be able to stream tracks from Baidu’s own music streaming service, with the audio components provided by Tymphany, the Danish high-end audio systems maker. Users can even take the music with them, as the Raven H boasts a rechargeable battery.
If the Raven H is quirky, the Raven R is downright futuristic. That’s because it’s the world’s first automated six-axis robot with emotional intelligence. What does that mean? Well, we’re not too sure either, but essentially it has six human-like joints for motion, while it boasts the same smart assistant as the one found in the Raven H.
It may seem pointless having a six-axis robot arm in the house, but Baidu says that the motion will allow the screen to look directly at the user when it’s been spoken to, while it’ll also be able to dance to the music playing from its speakers.
Right now, the R is still in development, and is not yet ready for prime time. In fact, if users were to purchase one in its current state they would have to stump up $2,000 – far more expensive than any smart speaker in the western world, even the Apple HomePod. The company wants it to be reduced to around $500 to $600, however, which puts it at only a slight premium over products like the Home Max and HomePod.
Speaking at the conference, Cheng (Jesse) Lyu, the founder of Raven Tech, notes: “Each product in our new Raven series is integrated with Baidu’s latest AI technologies, including facial recognition, computer vision and even our Apollo autonomous driving technology. These smart speakers and AI home robot may sound like a small step in the history of technology – but they will help people’s everyday lives and bring them an experience once only seen in sci-fi movies.”
Unfortunately, these two smart speakers are destined to remain in China for at least the time being. Teenage Engineering hopes that one day they will release outside of the middle kingdom, although it’ll have to be without Baidu – as the company’s services are not widely used or accessible outside of China. That could potentially mean the company will have to partner with Western giants such as Google, Apple or Amazon, but that’s not the priority right now.