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[LAS VEGAS] Chinese internet colossus Baidu is out to make a splash with 'Little Fish', a freshly unveiled family robot that is a voice-controlled virtual valet akin to Amazon Echo or Google Home.
Baidu showed off 'Little Fish', a translation of its Chinese name 'Xiaoyu Zaijia', on Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas ahead of its release in China later this year.
"I think 2017 will be the year of conversational computing," Baidu chief scientist Andrew Ng said while demonstrating 'Little Fish' for AFP behind closed doors at the show.
"We see a clear path of conversational computers changing everything."
Using voice to interact with computers able to essentially learn from experiences was among hot trends at CES. Arrays of device makers boasted of adding digital aide capabilities with the help of Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant technology.
Unlike Amazon Alexa or Google Home devices that let people ask for information or control devices by speaking, this Chinese one featured a touch-screen on top of its orb-shaped base.
A camera on top tracked faces, and the screen swivelled to keep facing a speaker.
"Speech is the fastest way for you to communicate with a computer, but a screen is a very fast way for a machine to communicate back to you," Mr Ng said.
For example, he added, it would be quicker to glance at a requested listing from Yelp of top restaurants than it would be to listen for the computer to read all the names and descriptions.
Baidu already has DuerOS in other devices in China, such as set-top TV boxes that can switch channels by voice command or figure out names of actors on screen when asked.
A bigger vision at Baidu is to build DuerOS into a "conversational computing" platform built into a broad range of devices and tapping into the internet company for search, food delivery, online commerce and more.
"If this takes off, I am not worried about how we will make money," Mr Ng said when asked about revenue plans.
"This is a huge new category. It will transform how you use devices in your home. There are plenty of business models."
'Little Fish', a second-generation device, will be released in China in March at a price yet to be disclosed, according to Baidu.
Baidu partnered with hardware firm Ainemo to build it.
"We believe family robots will be the next big category that will be a member of everybody's home," Ainemo chief executive and founder Chenfeng Song said in a release.