A Y Combinator-backed startup building China’s answer to Alexa has been acquired by Baidu, China’s top search engine, the companies announced this morning. The financial terms are not disclosed.

Raven Tech, with about US$18 million in funding in its pockets, created an AI-based voice assistant that it launched in an app called Flow.

That voice assistant is more comparable to Alexa than Siri, since it supports plugins that allow it to work with other web services. When Uber let Chinese companies tap into its ride-hailing system, Flow was one of the first apps to be ready, enabling users to grab a ride just by talking to the voice assistant, named Eva.

Baidu already invests heavily in AI and natural language processing, most notably through its Silicon Valley lab, headed by its chief scientist, Andrew Ng. The US$65 billion search giant last month rolled out a talking robot on a popular Chinese reality TV show in a bid to show an AI-powered machine can beat the human contestants in complex trials involving face and voice recognition.

“The year 2017 will be a year of conversational computing,” said a Baidu spokesperson to Tech in Asia. To push that forward, Baidu has just set up a business unit devoted to its digital assistant, DuerOS – which literally means Du Assistant. Like the startup it just acquired, Baidu calls its AI platform an OS, aiming to embed it in as many gadgets as it can.

Source: Tech in Asia