China: Baidu acquires Y Combinator-backed AI startup Raven

A woman is silhouetted against the Baidu logo at a new product launch from Baidu, in Shanghai, China, November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Chinese search engine giant Baidu Inc on Thursday announced that it has acquired Beijing-based artificial intelligence (AI) firm Raven Tech, one of the few Chinese startups enrolled in the American seed accelerator Y-Combinator.

Raven is also the fifth alumni of Microsoft Venture Accelerator.

The acquisition of Raven will give Baidu a further push into the AI space that it has been looking to explore for some time now. Earlier this week, the company took part in a $27 million Series B funding round of 8i, marking its first investment in the augmented and virtual realities (AR/VR) space.

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Founded in 2014, Raven has till date raised $18 million in funding from several investors including Zhen Fund, Matrix Partners China, DCM Ventures, Y Combinator, and Microsoft Acclerator.

Post acquisition, Raven’s founder Lv Cheng will join Baidu to oversee its smart home hardware operations, as per a China Money Network report. He will report to Baidu’s president and chief operating officer Lu Qi, who joined Baidu last month, the report said. In a statement, Baidu said hiring Lu is part of the company’s plan to become a “global leader in AI.”

Raven’s products include Raven H-1, which allows users to control smart home devices, and Flow, an AI voice assistant platform, and Music Flow, a music search and player app.

Of late, many tech giants including Facebook, Google, Microsoft Corp, and domestic internet giants Alibaba Group and Baidu have increased their focus on AI as they see it as the next big opportunity in the technology space.

Baidu injected $200 million into its AI and AR unit in September last year in an effort to revitalise the company’s shrinking profits, followed by the establishment of a $3 billion investment fund in October to focus on investments on mid- and late-stage companies working on AI and AR/VR deals. Last month, it also launched an AR lab in Beijing.

According to iResearch Consulting Group, the worldwide AI market reached about 48.4 billion yuan ($7 billion) in 2015. It is estimated that China’s AI market will reach 9.1 billion yuan by 2020.

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