Chinese tech giant Baidu debuted its first wireless earbuds and an upgraded conversational AI platform this week at the virtual keynote for the Baidu World 2020 event. The new XiaoduPods wireless earbuds are the first portable device to integrate the Xiaodu voice assistant, which relies on the new DuerOS 6.0, arriving a year after DuerOS 5.0 premiered.
The new hearables share a style reminiscent of Apple AirPods at first glance and include a similar case. The dual-microphone devices offer an active noise-canceling mode and are supposed to last 28 hours, according to Baidu. They come with some special features of their own, too. The earbuds are able to translate among several languages, but the really notable element of the translation is the Wandering Earth mode. When activated, two people can each wear an earbud and have the conversation translated in real-time into their preferred language. Wandering Earth mode is only available for Chinese and English right now, but Baidu is likely to add more languages to the list soon. The voice assistant can be awoken by double-tapping on the earbud or the wake word “Xiaodu Xiaodu.” With embedded access to Xiaodu, the earbuds provide weather, directions, news, and answers to math questions. Baidu is selling the XiaoduPods at an introductory price of 199 yuan, about $29.
The XiaoduPods are limited to China for now, but there’s growing global competition in the hearables space that the company has to reckon with. Each has its own appeal, whether the unusual shape and close integration with Bixby of the new Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, the Android connections of the Google Pixel Buds, or the relatively intuitive Amazon Echo Buds. None can match the XiaoduPods for price, at least at the introductory level, however, which will likely give Baidu an advantage in the short-term.
Baidu’s foray into hearables comes with DuerOS 6.0, the platform Baidu relies on for adding Xiaodu to smart speakers and smart home devices. The new version can support low-power voice chips and uses software algorithms to amplify sound. The AI is also better at understanding what people, with a 46% lower error rate, according to Baidu.
Last year, Baidu said that more than 400 million devices used DuerOS. Though there’s no English mention, the Chinese chyron in the image above does indicate the number has grown past 500 million now. That fits with the rapid rise in queries to DuerOS devices that Baidu has reported, from 5 billion in December of 2019 to 6.5 billion in March of 2020. The number of devices and queries is only going to grow faster. In June, Baidu partnered with Midea, China’s largest smart device manufacturers to allow Xiaodu’s smart speakers to control Midea’s appliances. As Midea has sold more than 70 million smart home appliances, the deal is no small matter, even with the success of Xiaodu-powered smart speakers. The improved DuerOS will likely help with that integration and paves the way for bringing Xiaodu to even more devices, which is exactly what Baidu wants.
“In the future, we will provide more devices for a wider range of application scenarios to make Baidu AI ubiquitous and implement more convenient smart living to users,” Kun Jing, Corporate Vice President of Baidu and General Manager of Smart Living Group (SLG), said in a statement. “This is quintessential to the ‘breaking boundaries’ strategy we have been focusing on.”