Matthew Miller
Mar 23, 2018

Alibaba turns its Genie into a cat that reads bedtime stories

AI-enabled virtual creature can also read from medicine packages.

Alibaba's AI Labs said it has upgraded the AI platform behind its Tmall Genie smart speaker, adding visual-recognition capabilities that allow the device to scan and read "over 100 sets of children's books" as well as 40,000 medicine boxes, according to the company.

Genie owners need to buy an RMB 49 (US$7.73) phone holder attachment (branded the XHolder) and then scan a QR code to enable Genie FireEye, a new function in the Tmall Genie mobile app. 

At that point the phone's front-facing camera can recognize and read books and medicine boxes  placed in its field of view. The company said it has partnered with publishers in China and AliHealth, Alibaba's healthcare subsidiary, on the project, which implies that the system cannot read from any book or package placed in front of it. 

A demo video (above, in Chinese only) shows the device reading poems after being shown printed cards, reading from a Peppa Pig book, and announcing the usage information for an over-the-counter flu remedy. The animated cat also responds to nose boops and chin scritches.

Alibaba says more than 2 million Tmall Genies have been sold in China since its launch in July 2017. The ecosystem includes more than 100 partner brands in the airline, education, hotel, nursing home, auto, home-appliance and music and entertainment sectors, according to Alibaba.

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