A self-driving milestone and an AI accelerator partnership with Intel weren’t the only high points of Baidu’s Create conference in Beijing this week. The company took the wraps off of DuerOS 5.0, its latest-gen natural language platform, and it revealed that DuerOS’ install base recently surpassed 400 million as voice queries topped 3.6 billion. The former metric is up substantially from 150 million and 100 million last November and August, respectively, when DuerOS reached the 800-million-queries mark.
For the uninitiated, DuerOS is a suite of software developer kits (SDKs), APIs, and turnkey solutions that enable original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to integrate the platform with smart speakers, refrigerators, washing machines, set-top boxes, and more.
Perhaps the headliner of DuerOS 5.0 is its full-duplex mode, which allows it to respond without the need for a wake word. (It’s a lot like Google Assistants’ Continued Conversation, which that rolled out to supported third-party smart displays like JBL’s Link View and LG’s Xboom AI ThinQ WK9 in March.) Other spotlight features include the ability to recognize “in sync” the moment to act on tasks and when to listen and refrain from reacting, and enhanced voice-controlled playback of Chinese online video platform iQIYI’s content on select devices.
Baidu showcased three new models in its popular Xiaodu smart speaker lineup alongside DuerOS 5.0, all of which start at about $ 28 (RMB199): King Kong, Play, and Xiaodu at Home 1C 4G. King Kong launched in June and boasts an infrared receiver and a built-in DLNA projection screen. Baidu says that Play was specially designed with “innovative features that cater to younger generations.” Last but not least, the portable Xiaodu at Home 1C 4G supports nano-SIM cards and doubles as a mobile hotspot (not unlike Huawei’s Alexa-enabled AI Cube.)
Baidu says that developer adoption of its Xiaodu speakers, which ranked third globally and first in China in the first quarter of 2019 according to Canalys, is on the upswing. There’s now 2,000 skills available from 32,000 developers, up from 16,000 developers as of November 2018), up from about 600 skills in May 2018. And Baidu anticipates a further boost with the launch of its Xiaodu VIP program this week, which it describes as “a way to harness the power of user experience through AI by allowing users and brands to interact effortlessly.”
DuerOS hasn’t quite reached the storied heights of Amazon’s Alexa and Alexa Voice Service, which have more than 90,000 third-party apps and thousands of brands signed on — not to mention compatibility with 60,000 smart home devices. But Baidu says it’s working with heavy hitters including Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, and others to integrate DuerOS into future flagships, in addition to automakers such as BMW, Daimler, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Chery, BAIC, FAW, and Byton and hotel chains like InterContinental.