Baidu furthers AI push with acquisition of digital assistant startup Raven Tech

Baidu is furthering its push into artificial intelligence after it announced the acquisition of Raven Tech, a Chinese startup that developed an AI voice assistant platform. Baidu confirmed it has bought the startup’s tech, product and staff of 60.

The deal comes a month after Baidu hired noted AI expert Qi Lu, formerly with Microsoft, as its COO and Group President. Baidu didn’t reveal how much it is paying for Raven Tech, which is an alumnus of the Microsoft Venture Accelerator and Y Combinator and has raised $18 million from investors like DCM Ventures and Zhenfund.

Raven Tech’s Flow product was likened to a Chinese version of Siri, but it has failed to take off. As Tech In Asia pointed out, the app never broke the top 700 ranking in the App Store in China, while Siri itself has support for Mandarin and there are rivals services from more established companies like Xiaomi and even Baidu.

Alongside the acquisition, Baidu said that it has created a new business unit to house its Duer digital assistant and related products such as its augmented reality platform. Cheng Lu, Raven Tech’s CEO, will lead Baidu’s smart home device business and “work with the Duer team on new product development.” Cheng Lu will report into Qi Lu.

Baidu’s AI and machine learning push is headed by Coursera founder Andrew Ng, who runs the firm’s California-based research division. Last month, Baidu added an augmented reality lab to that base, which includes an institute of deep learning and big data lab.