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Baidu and Teenage Engineering’s smart speaker is a stylish Chinese Echo

Baidu and Teenage Engineering’s smart speaker is a stylish Chinese Echo

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baidu raven h teenage engineering

The prevailing design trend with smart speakers like the Amazon Echo has been to make them look as minimalist and unassuming as possible, presumably so they can be placed anywhere around the house. The Raven H, however, looks like it spilled out of a kid’s toy closet. I love it.

It’s the result of a collaboration by Chinese internet giant Baidu and Swedish tech design house Teenage Engineering. The Raven H has a colorful stacked design that culminates in a posable, detachable, touch-sensitive top panel that displays simple status information through a cute LED array. 

The speaker runs DuerOS, Baidu’s conversational AI system, and hooks into services like Baidu Music and iQiyi, a video platform that can be controlled by the Raven H on a connected smart TV. Your data from these services is stored in the detachable top panel, so you can carry it with you, set it down on someone else’s Raven H, and use the speaker as if it were your own.

DuerOS only supports Chinese right now, a language I can’t speak. My colleague Angela Chen can, however, and came along to test the Raven H. The speaker did a pretty good job of recognizing her voice requests, and although some of the responses took a while to come back, that’s probably down to the congested Wi-Fi environment of the CES South Hall. You can watch our experiences with the Raven H in the video above.

Only works in Chinese, but it can still play Taylor Swift

Although there’s no English support, DuerOS can recognize Western names and proper nouns when making requests in Chinese, which is a tricky problem I run into with Japanese voice services all the time. Angela was able to get the Raven H to play Michael Jackson and Taylor Swift songs, for example. Another neat feature that you don’t have to speak Chinese to appreciate is the feedback DuerOS gives following the initial “Xiaodu xiaodu” wake word — the assistant instantly makes human-sounding noises of acknowledgment like “mm?,” which comes across as friendlier than an anonymous bloop. 

The Raven H is only available in China, where it costs 1,699 yuan ($260). And while this is Baidu’s main first-party effort for DuerOS, a whole range of third-party partners are producing their own devices that support the assistant. The Chinese version of the Nvidia Shield uses it in place of Google Assistant, for example. Baidu is also working with Linkplay so that DuerOS can be easily installed in Alexa-equipped devices. 

So, while you’re unlikely to be using DuerOS yourself any time soon, there’s every reason to believe it will continue to grow in the colossal Chinese market — especially if more products as attractive as the Raven H are on the way.