Plans have been unveiled to build China's largest hub for companies developing speech recognition technologies and products in Hefei, Anhui province, to boost the artificial intelligence sector.
To realize the goal, the city has said it will expand Speech Valley, an industrial park forming part of the Hefei State High-Tech Industry Development Zone, to include at least 1,000 enterprises over the next three years.
"To make products more intelligent, they should be better able to understand human intentions. We think the most practical way to do this is by analyzing people's speech and the orders they give," said Zhang Youguo, deputy chief executive of iFlytek.
The company, listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, is among more than 150 enterprises based in the valley and is regarded a global leader in speech recognition technology.
"Almost 500,000 research and development teams nationwide, mainly small or medium sized, are already using the technology iFlytek provides for free on a shared platform," Zhang said.
Speech Valley was launched in 2013 by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Anhui government. It is designed to cover a total area of 400 hectares.
"By the end of 2020, it will be home to at least 1,000 enterprises," said Kan Wei, a spokesman for the zone. "Apart from attracting mature companies from other parts of the country, most of the companies will be incubated here with numerous supporting policies offered by governments at different levels."
Most of the research teams currently using the iFlytek technology are not based in Hefei, but the city hopes to attract them to Speech Valley, he said.
A guideline released in September by the Anhui government said Hefei authorities and the Anhui Investment Group will provide a combined 5 billion yuan ($790 million) to support the project.
"More social investment will be also be attracted to build the area," Kan said, adding that the financial support means companies, especially startups, will easily be able to obtain loans and investment.
However, teams based in the park will not need to use iFlytek's technology. Even its competitors are welcome, according to Kan, who explained that the goal of Speech Valley is not to protect certain companies, but to promote innovation.
"With profound speech technology, we aim to better analyze users' intentions expressed by speech and develop more products," said Feng Haihong, founder and general manager of Anhui MiMouse Technology, a startup in Speech Valley.
With technology and part investment from iFlytek, his company has launched an intelligent mouse that can be operated through voice commands in English or Chinese, and in some cases Uygur, a language spoken predominantly in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in northeastern China.