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LG, Baidu still playing catch-up with US tech giants

Google and Amazon steal the show at electronics fair, but Asian rivals closing fast

Scott Huffman, Google Assistant vice president of engineering, speaks during an LG news conference at the 2018 CES in Las Vegas on Jan. 8. (Photo by Toyoki Nakanishi)

LAS VEGAS, U.S. -- LG Electronics' robot didn't quite meet the South Korean company's expectations and China's Baidu admits it still lags Google, but the two showed that the gap is closing between them and their U.S. competitors at the annual CES trade show.

Overall, digital assistants were in the spotlight at the event, in its second day, despite an array of digitalized home appliances and electric cars on display.

Demonstrators spoke to voice-activated robots created by Google and Amazon throughout the day. In fact, the two U.S. powerhouses did not even have to flog their own digital assistants as other manufacturers have incorporated their technologies into their own.

"Hey, Google. What's the weather in China next week?" a senior official at LG Electronics asked the company's flat-screen television equipped with Google Assistant. With the embedded Google Assistant, the TV can respond to voice commands without a remote control. LG's own robot, however, failed to respond to a demonstrator thrice, prompting laughter from the audience.

Scott Huffman, Google Assistant vice president of engineering, who appeared at LG's news conference as a guest, said he was confident that the artificial intelligence assistant could work in many more household items. "We've been able to work together on all kinds of devices including LG watches, OLED TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, ovens, air conditioners and more," he said.

Sony and Lenovo Group have also unveiled Google Assistant-equipped products. Google was ubiquitous at the CES where it took up multiple booths with the advertising slogan "Hey, Google" plastered across them, promoting the AI assistant.

Panasonic, meanwhile, announced that it would incorporate Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant, into its in-car equipment.

While the two U.S. players currently dominate the artificial intelligence area, another notable presence at this year's fair was the Chinese companies.

The country's largest search engine operator Baidu's press conference on Monday was packed. "The U.S. is still by far the best in terms of top-tier talent, but China is closing the gap fast," said Lu Qi, Baidu's group president and chief operating officer. "What will give an edge to China is a much larger population and a fast-growing market."

State-backed Baidu is working on an autonomous driving platform, through the its Apollo development project involving 50 or so global leading players, including automakers such as Ford Motor and Daimler, as well as U.S. chipmaker Nvidia.

"We are China's Google. We will become the 'platformer,'" Lu said.

Byton, a China-based electric car startup, too said it plans to launch autonomous electric cars by 2020.

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