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Chinese AI speech recognition chip startup secures new war chest

ChipIntelli aims to meet expanding demand amid rapid growth of smart homes

ChipIntelli provides AI-based speech recognition chips to major consumer electronics manufacturers. (Photo Courtesy of ChipIntelli)

BEIJING -- ChipIntelli, a maker of AI-based speech recognition chips, recently raised several tens of millions of yuan ($3 million to $5 million) in a new funding round led by Haolan Capital.

ChipIntelli, founded in 2015, received an investment of about the same amount from Yuanhe Puhua in March last year.

ChipIntelli has set its sights on smart homes, among other target markets. The startup currently has more than 600 customers, including top Chinese consumer electronics manufacturers such as Midea, Haier and Hisense, covering over 90% of the prestigious brands making air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, electric fans and smart toilets.

Five speech recognition chips released by ChipIntelli, equipped with an originally developed neural network processor, are already under mass production.

ChipIntelli founder He Yunpeng, who has 20 years of experience in the semiconductor sector and once served as deputy general manager at the research and development division of a semiconductor company affiliated with Hisense, said, "Our company's neural network processor currently is the fourth generation and is equipped with a series of functions, such as speech recognition, online self-learning and signal detection."

"Furthermore, we have made it possible for users to set languages and statements on the speech platform so that we can meet individual demand," He said, adding that this is another of ChipIntelli's unique strengths.

In addition to releasing a new chip, ChipIntelli plans in the second half of this year to expand solutions combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) and also solutions that can be used both online and offline. ChipIntelli currently has more than 100 employees, over 75% of whom are engaged in development.

According to German research firm Statista, the size of the Chinese smart home market totaled 372.81 billion yuan (about $58 billion) in 2019 and is expected to reach 818.28 billion yuan ($128 billion) in 2025.

ChipIntelli's founder thinks that its customers mainly place importance on the ability of AI speech recognition chips in smart home products to identify people, plus overall cost and reliability, and thus the company seeks to promote the popularization of the chips by improving their performance and reducing costs.

In response to the spreading "smartization" of consumer electronics, various startups, the tech giant Baidu, the semiconductor-related company Amlogic and others have broken into this untapped market one after another.

ChipIntelli's founder expects demand for AI speech recognition chips to grow significantly between the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022 due to the increasing number of smart home-compatible devices, improving chip performance and declining costs.

According to data from ChipIntelli, the volume of the company's product shipments rose significantly in the first quarter of this year from the same period a year earlier. Furthermore, orders received by the company in April exceeded the total volume of its product shipments in the first quarter of this year.

With explosive growth in demand for AI speech recognition chips in remote controls for air conditioners and television sets, ChipIntelli expects the volume of its chip shipments will also increase rapidly this year.

Wang Xi, the managing partner of Haolan Capital, said that in the era of "AIoT" -- combining AI and IoT -- speech will become one of the most important methods of human-computer interaction. As AI speech recognition chips are expected to be installed in many smart home devices as standard equipment, huge demand for such chips will occur in the future, Wang added.

36Kr, a Chinese tech news portal founded in Beijing in 2010, has more than 150 million readers worldwide. Nikkei announced a partnership with 36Kr on May 22, 2019.

For the Japanese version of this story, click here.

For the Chinese version, click here.

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