Naver beefs up AI search service

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Naver beefs up AI search service


Left: Naver’s AI-powered ConA service trawls through information on travel sites. Right: Naver’s search engine app shows real-time parking lot status at Incheon International Airport. [NAVER]

Naver, operator of Korea’s most popular search engine, is accelerating its development of artificial intelligence-powered search services to compete with global rivals like Google.

The company said Friday that its AI-powered search service for travel information now covers nearly 300 cities and counties across the country. When the service was launched last October, it only covered 32 major cities abroad and no local destinations. Now, it covers 112 foreign cities and 282 local spots.

The search service, called ConA, allows users to type in a particular city, say, Incheon, and it will generate a list of popular keywords related to the city, like Incheon’s fairy tale village, water taxis, ocean views, and couples’ travel. Users can click on the keyword and get recommended service providers, travel packages and reviews alongside basic information like weather.

The keywords are fetched through big data analysis of popular search items in each city. The service is currently only available on Naver’s mobile app. The company says it’s working on a PC version.

Hotel booking and transportation recommendation services are also linked to the service, allowing users to take care of most of their travel in one place.

“In the upcoming holiday season in May, we expect many users to find all the information they need on traveling to different cities through our service,” said Choi Ji-hoon, a leader at Naver’s travel project team. “We will analyze the needs of our customers preparing for travel to better come up with necessary information and recommendations.”

Naver wants its tools to be a “virtual tour guide” for users. While ConA offers information before users travel to a certain area, the company is also working on a service that offers real-time information as users are traveling and give recommendations based on GPS location.

The service, called LARS, will be able to recommend popular tourist sites, restaurants and nearby accommodations, the company said. Naver claims users won’t have to browse different blogs, images and maps once LARS is available.

The company hopes to also be able to provide information on the operating hours of locations and crowd conditions of certain streets.

One simple implementation of such a service is showing real-time parking lot data at Incheon International Airport through a search on Naver. Users are now able find out how many spots are empty.

Since last July, Naver has already been offering real-time forecasts of wait times at airport immigration.

The company said during conference call Thursday it is also developing AI-powered shopping and image recognition services as well as its own chat-bot and self-driving cars. Naver will invest 500 billion won ($440 million) over the next five years to ramp up its AI-based services. This year, about 40 percent the 107.7 billion won investment in research and development will be used to develop AI platforms.

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