Chinese startup Rokid introduces a voice-dedicated AI chip, cutting-edge speakers, and more

On June 26, Temasek-backed and Hangzhou-based AI startup Rokid hosted a press conference to introduce Rokid Me, a smart speaker, the voice-dedicated Kamino 18 AI chip, and a wearable AR glass.

Rokid opened its first major press release in four years with a video starring an animated monkey, accentuating the AI startup’s playfulness. Founded in 2014 by former Alibaba research lab chief Misa Zhu, Rokid received USD 100 million in a January investment round led by Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, pushing its valuation to USD 500 million. Other participants included Credit Suisse, CDIB Capital and IDG Capital.


Smart speaker Rokid Me

Zhu categorized Rokid Me as more of a personal AI speaker than its predecessors Alien and Pebble, which he noted were smart home kits. Weighing only 400g, the aerospace-aluminum-encased Me boasts a 4000mAH battery that can last eight hours and detect voices from all angles. It features vocal print recognition, gesture sensing controls (you can shuffle songs by shaking it), and other cutting-edge features. Priced at USD 121.6 (RMB 799) with Tencent Music‘s 2-year-subscription, Me will be released on July 26.

Though many tech giants have been luring customers with low prices, such as Baidu, with its promotionally-priced USD 14 Xiaodu speaker, Zhu said that Rokid is looking to sell its products to and cultivate brand loyalty among those with more refined tastes in speaker equpiment.

So far, Rokid’s speaker interface has hosted over 100 million individual user interactions.  


Voice-dedicated AI chip Kamino 18

Another of Rokid’s key products is the SOC chip, which has been a hotly-anticipated product since former Samsung Semiconductor (China) research director Dr. Zhou Jun joined Rokid in April. With Rokid’s newest algorithms, the coin-sized Kamino 18 could lower costs of existing general-purpose chips by 30% and reduce device power consumption by 30%-50%, according to Rokid Beijing A-lab director Dr. Gao Peng.

Moreover, Rokid strategically teamed up with leading domestic audio platform Ximalaya FM, whose child-targeted smart speaker Xiaoya Mini was the first to adopt the Kamino 18. Zhu also announced that the chip will soon support Amazon Alexa overseas with bilingual technology assistance.

According to Zhu, Rokid is very interested in creating a smartphone-like chip and an AI OS ecosystem. It is difficult to balance investments and costs when developing chips, said Zhu.

The latest Rokid AR Glass, which debuted at CES 2018 in January, is 40% smaller than its predecessor and will be mass produced by the end of 2018. Weighing 120g, the glasses look no different from ordinary sunglasses. With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and a 13m pixel, the glass is also compatible with corrective lenses. It features facial and object recognition technology as well as indoor navigation, and it aims to integrate offline shopping, tourism, and other services. According to chief designer Jiang Gonglue, the glass will turn on a LED light when actively recording video due to privacy concerns. Zhu told AllTechAsia that a current insufficiency of manufacturing capacity is keeping Rokid AR glass from mass production. He assured us, however, that the AR Glass will be affordably priced.

CFO and co-founder Eric Wong also informed ATA that Rokid might potentially land strategic funding from existing investors by the end of this year. When asked about rivals, including Alibaba-backed SenseTime and state-funded Face++, which have both claimed to be tech unicorns, Wong responded that Rokid currently is not seeking to become one so far because the company is more focused on innovation than its valuation.

“We are not a typical Chinese company,” Zhu added, “we do not yield to our investors.”


(Top photo from Rokid)

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