What’s happened in AI: February 25th-March 3rd

By | March 4, 2019

Big news this week is centered around the AI chip industry. Out in China, Horizon Robotics has raised a massive $600mm series B led by SK China. They’re already backed by Intel and will use the proceeds to continue expanding their capabilities in what’s known to be a very competitive space.

Meanwhile in the U.S., Google Ventures has invested in Lightmatter, an AI chip startup out of Boston. More weekly news can be found below.

Company developments:

Tesla Offers Owners 50% Off Autopilot & Full Self-Driving – Mar. 2, 2019 (Clean Technica)

  • The discount clearly does not offset the lost value for many Tesla owners, but seeing as how there was really no reason for Tesla to do anything for prior owners, it is a nice gesture and surely will not go unnoticed. At the same time, Tesla does not have to give owners anything for free and has a chance to make some extra cash in a quarter when they really, really need extra cash for an upgrade that essentially costs them nothing

UiPath is considering launching its own conversational AI platform – Feb. 28, 2019 (VentureBeat)

  • Robotic process automation (RPA) company UiPath may debut its own platform for creating AI agents or bots both for customer-facing services and to carry out backend processes, chief product officer Param Kahlon told VentureBeat in a recent interview in San Francisco
  • Microsoft Bot Framework and Dialogflow bots are available alongside hundreds of industry-specific automated workflows and machine learning integrations in the UiPath Marketplace. UiPath is currently evaluating customer feedback and its own assessments about bots currently available on its platform before making a choice


Compass acquires Contactually, a CRM provider to the real estate industry – Feb. 27, 2019 (TechCrunch)

  • Compass, the real estate tech platform that is now worth $4.4 billion, has made an acquisition to give its agents a boost when it comes to looking for good leads on properties to sell. It is acquiring Contactually, an AI-based CRM platform designed specifically for the industry, which includes features like linking up a list of homes sold by a brokerage with records of sales in the area and other property indexes to determine which properties might be good targets to tap for future listings
  • Terms of the deal are not being disclosed. Crunchbase notes that Contactually had raised around $18 million from VCs that included Rally Ventures, Grotech and Point Nine Capital, and it was last valued at around $30 million in 2016, according to PitchBook. From what I understand, the startup had strong penetration in the market, so it’s likely that the price was a bit higher than this previous valuation

DataRobot acquires Cursor, a data collaboration platform – Feb. 26, 2019 (VentureBeat)

  • Boston startup DataRobot, which helps enterprises build predictive models, today announced that it’s acquiring San Francisco-based data collaboration platform Cursor for an undisclosed amount. As part of the deal, DataRobot says it’ll build a San Francisco office and integrate Cursor’s technology into its machine learning solutions suite
  • Prior to the acquisition, Cursor had raised $2 million in venture capital, according to Crunchbase

Walmart Acquires Israel-Based Natural Language Processing Startup – Feb. 26, 2019 (Retail TouchPoints)

  • Walmart has acquired Aspectiva, an Israel-based natural language processing (NLP) startup, for an undisclosed sum. Aspectiva will join Walmart’s Store No. 8 incubation arm, where its NLP capabilities will be used to enhance the end-to-end shopping experience. The company will continue operating from its offices in Tel Aviv
  • Walmart has made several other recent investments in Israel. The retail giant invested in Team8, an Israeli think tank and tech incubator; launched a joint venture with Eko, an interactive media and technology company with offices in Tel Aviv and New York; and joined The Bridge, a technology accelerator that connects global companies with the startup community in Israel

Fundraising / investment:

Korean conglomerate SK leads $600M round for Chinese chipmaker Horizon Robotics – Feb. 26, 2019 (TechCrunch)

  • Horizon Robotics, a three-year-old Chinese startup backed by Intel Capital, just raised a mega-round of funding from domestic and overseas backers as it competes for global supremacy in developing AI solutions and chips aimed at autonomous vehicles, smart retail stores, surveillance equipment and other devices for everyday scenarios
  • The Beijing-based company announced Wednesday in a statement that it hauled in $600 million in a Series B funding round led by SK China, the China subsidiary of South Korean conglomerate SK Group; SK Hynix, SK’s semiconductor unit; and a number of undisclosed Chinese automakers along with their funds

Presto raises $30M to bring its AI platform and tabletop ordering hardware to restaurant chains – Feb. 27, 2019 (TechCrunch)

  • Presto is working with restaurants to update the 21st century dine-in experience, letting customers order and pay from their table with a tablet device while also providing hardware like wearables for servers so they can be alerted when they are needed by customers
  • The company announced today that they’ve raised $30 million in growth funding from Recruit Holdings and Romulus Capital. I2BF Global Ventures, EG Capital and Brainchild Holdings also participated in the raise

Alphabet’s GV invests in light beam-powered AI chips – Feb. 26, 2019 (Innovation Enterprise)

  • GV, a venture arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has led a round of investment in Lightmatter, a Boston startup that is using beams of light on chips to develop super-fast AI
  • Founded in 2017, Lightmatter makes optical computer chips that solve this problem by leveraging the properties of light to perform calculations at incredible speeds to support faster and more energy efficient computers that will power the next generation of AI


Daimler and BMW enter long-term partnership for self-driving cars – Feb. 28, 2019 (VentureBeat)

  • In an announcement today, Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler and BMW — which operates a number of brands, including Mini and Rolls-Royce — revealed plans to develop next-generation technologies for driver-assistance systems, parking, and automated driving on highways up to SAE level 4
  • It has become increasingly clear that getting self-driving cars to market is a problem bigger than any one company can manage on its own, which is why we’ve seen a growing number of partnerships — often between rivals. Volkswagen and Ford are already exploring codeveloping autonomous and electric cars; BMW is working with Fiat Chrysler and Intel; SoftBank and Toyota are in cahoots to develop car services that rely on self-driving technology; and the Renault-Nissan alliance is partnering with Google. Countless other automaker and technology partnerships are permeating the burgeoning autonomous driving realm, as well

Google and DeepMind bring machine learning and better efficiency to wind farms – Feb. 27, 2019 (TechSpot)

  • Google and DeepMind have teamed up on using machine learning to predict the output of renewable energy sources such as wind farms. The algorithm training uses weather forecasts and data from wind turbines to predict electric output 36 hours in advance, raising the efficiency of power grids and decreasing the often unreliable nature of wind power
  • This AI collaboration is only one of many renewable energy projects Google is working on. Google currently supports 20 renewable energy partnerships across the US and Europe, and as of 2017 Google has purchased enough renewable energy to match 100% of its operational needs. While Google isn’t the only company committed to using fully-renewable energy, they are among the first to cross the finish line

NEC and E.Sun create ATM with facial recognition – Feb. 26, 2019 (ZDNet)

  • NEC Corporation announced on Monday that it has partnered with major Taiwanese bank E.Sun to create ATMs that allow customers to make cash withdrawals through facial recognition
  • The use of facial recognition in E.Sun’s ATMS is touted as a world first, and will allow customers to withdraw cash from ATMs via facial recognition and PIN authentication after they have performed the initial setup process

Google works with Aravind Eye Hospital to deploy AI that can detect eye disease – Feb. 25, 2019 (VentureBeat)

  • For the better part of four years, Alphabet life sciences company Verily and Google’s AI research division have been developing an artificially intelligent (AI) system that can diagnose diabetic retinopathy (DR), a disease that can cause permanent eye damage if left untreated. (It’s the fastest-growing cause of blindness among the more than 415 million diabetic patients worldwide, according to the National Eye Institute.) Today, in an extension of their work, Google revealed that it has deployed the algorithm for real-world clinical use at Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India

Research / studies:

AI helps turbine-inspecting drones pinpoint their locations – Feb. 28, 2019 (VentureBeat)

  • A problem that remains somewhat uncracked in the drone inspection space, though, is localization — the ability to accurately suss out a drone’s location with respect to the thing it’s inspecting. GPS and inertial measurement units (IMUs) provide relatively granular tracking, but more accurate data might ensure better consistency and enable drones to get safely closer to inspection targets
  • Toward that end, a newly published paper on the preprint server Arxiv.org (“Improving drone localization around wind turbines using monocular model-based tracking“) proposes a novel method of integrating images into drone navigation stacks for automated wind turbine inspection

Researchers develop AI that classifies seizures using less data – Feb. 27, 2019 (VentureBeat)

  • Epilepsy affects millions of people in the U.S. (approximately three million in 2015, according to Healthline). It’s commonly diagnosed by interpretation of electroencephalograms, or EEGs — measurements of the brain’s electrical activity taken from the scalp. But the signals tend to be quite long. This makes them challenging to interpret
  • Researchers at Edith Cowan University in Australia and Pabna University of Science and Technology in Bangladesh propose a solution in a newly published preprint paper on Arxiv.org (“Epileptic seizure classification using statistical sampling and a novel feature selection algorithm“): an artificially intelligent (AI) system that automatically classifies seizures using a two-step method

AI can detect signs of stroke in infants – Feb. 25, 2019 (VentureBeat)

  • Perinatal stroke — a stroke occurring before or around the time of an infant’s birth that can lead to lifelong disability — affects around 2 in 1,000 children, making it the most common motor disorder in childhood. Early intervention has the potential to improve outcomes, but it requires early detection, and that’s easier said than done. The symptoms tend to be nonspecific, and one routine screening method — General Movement Assessment (GMA), which relies on recognizing movements characteristic of a stroke — requires extensive training
  • Researchers at Newcastle University and the Georgia Institute of Technology believe they’ve made progress toward an automated, low-cost diagnostic solution that leverages a combination of wearables and artificial intelligence (AI). Their work, which they describe in a newly published preprint paper (“Towards Reliable, Automated General Movement Assessment for Perinatal Stroke Screening in Infants Using Wearable Accelerometers“), involves outfitting newborns with body-worn sensors and applying GMA algorithms to the data collected

Government / policy:

Chinese police test gait-recognition technology that identifies people based on how they walk – Mar. 3, 2019 (Today)

  • Chinese artificial intelligence start-up Watrix says its software can identify a person from 50 metres away – even if they have covered their face or have their back to a camera – making it more than a match for Sherlock Holmes
  • “With facial recognition people need to look into a camera – cooperation is not needed for them to be recognised [by our technology],” said Mr Huang Yongzhen, co-founder and chief executive of Watrix, in an interview in Beijing. Features like this have given Watrix an edge in catching runaway criminals, who tend to avoid surveillance, said Huang

Microsoft president says WA state privacy bill could impact facial recognition technology globally – Mar. 1, 2019 (GeekWire)

  • Two of the top companies developing facial recognition software are in Washington state, where a bill that would regulate the technology is working its way through the legislature. Because Amazon and Microsoft would be regulated by the law, Microsoft President Brad Smith says its implications would impact billions of people living outside Washington’s borders
  • Microsoft and Amazon both highlight the benefits of the facial recognition technology they offer — from diagnosing disease to locating missing children. But they diverge when it comes to the controversy surrounding the technology. Amazon has come under fire from the ACLU and others worried facial recognition can amplify racial bias. The use of Amazon’s technology by law enforcement agencies rankles civil rights activists