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Baidu Acquires US Artificial Intelligence Start-Up KITT.AI

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Baidu hosted its AI developer conference yesterday in Beijing, where CEO Robin Li appeared in video while inside Baidu's autonomous driving car cruising through the capital.

Chinese Internet giant Baidu Inc. has agreed to acquire KITT.AI, a Seattle-based natural language processing start-up founded by Chinese entrepreneurs Yao Xucheng and Chen Guoguo. The pair plan to jointly develop natural language understanding technology as part of Baidu’s intense push into AI.

No financial details were disclosed in a company announcement released Wednesday.

Baidu’s chief operating officer Lu Qi has repeatedly said that Baidu is an AI company, stressing that the search engine operator is fully committed to transforming itself in that direction. The strategic move is viewed as a chance for Baidu to catch up with peers Alibaba and Tencent, which have both achieved great success during the mobile Internet boom, while Baidu has lagged behind.

The newly announced investment follows Baidu’s strategic agreement last month with German automotive company Continental AG to cooperate in the areas of autonomous driving technology, connected vehicles and intelligent mobility services.

A month earlier, Baidu acquired xPerception, a U.S. technology company that provides visual perception software and hardware solutions for robotics, virtual reality, and devices for people who are visually impaired. Earlier this year, Baidu also acquired Beijing-based Raven Tech, a Chinese smart home control and smart hardware start-up utilizing artificial intelligence and big data.

Founded in 2014, KITT.AI focuses on developing natural language understanding technology and intuitive conversation engines. Its products including a customizable hotword detection engine, a multilingual natural language understanding engine and a multi-turn conversation engine that can be applied to mobile apps, speakers, appliances, cars and physical locations such as conference rooms, offices and hospital.

The company claims that its customizable hotword detection engine Snowboy contains 9,000 unique hotwords in 15 languages, and that it has provided services to over 12,000 developers. Founder Yao Xucheng wrote on the company’s blog that the start-up is already profitable, without disclosing any details.

The company previously raised an undisclosed amount in an angel round from Amazon’s Alexa Fund and Seattle-based Founders’ Co-op last year.


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