If California in the early 1900s was sharply characterised by its gold rush fever, then the last few years would be a fitting parallel to the smart speaker market. Is this a tad dramatic? Absolutely. But in all sincerity, almost every tech giant has launched its own version of the perfect voice-activated home assistant – al a disembodied voice in a plastic box.

The latest to leap on to the scene is none other than Baidu, which has sought to put some muscle into the bones of its new artificial intelligence pursuit. The firm has a 1,300 strong team dedicated to getting the behemoth to catch up with more established players Amazon and Google. With almost three years separating the announcement of Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home, Baidu’s Raven H will have a lot of work to do if it seeks to woo consumers. With Alexa and Home, both offering heavy integration into smart devices Baidi will need to match the interoperability that is currently on the market if it seeks to stand a chance.

Impressive Hardware

The Raven H, a colourful palm-sized device, sits at 1,699 RMB (£191/$267), which makes it more expensive than JD.com (Jin Dong) and Alibaba’s offerings to date. Running a custom operating system DuerOS, the device will let you use your voice to request information directly from the internet, play a tracklist, order a cab, or control your TV. It will also sport a hi-end audio driver from Tymphany, a Swedish consumer electronics company, which was acquired specifically by Raven H developers.

With specs aside, the main draw for Raven H is its aesthetics and modular build design. Unlike a weighty cylinder wrapped in perforated soft-touch fabric, or a hockey puck-shaped device, Baidu has gone for a more creative concept – and it works so well. It looks like a stack of brightly-coloured Jacob’s Cream crackers with the very top layer (that’s also detachable) being able to tilt up to 90 degrees vertically. It will further feature an LED dot-matrix display so that it can interact with the user through producing shapes (perhaps a face?) and to show times and dates. The coiled cable is available in a vivid red and has a have a premium braided sleeve.

While Baidu is keeping hush about any further features, we can say for certain that it will have Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-band Wi-Fi, and is powered over the newer USB-C port.

How well it performs in this crowded market is anyone’s guess. But what is certain that Baidu is now making its name as an artificial intelligence company.

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