Robot Investments Weekly: Intel Capital Rolls Out Red Carpet for AI Firms

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich addresses attendees during his keynote address at the Intel Capital Global Summit. In its 18th year, the 2018 Intel Capital Global Summit takes place May 8-10 in Palm Desert, California. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

May 11, 2018      

Artificial intelligence and machine learning companies dominated the investments arena this week, highlighted by a little company known as Intel. The Intel Capital investment arm of the technology giant continues to invest millions in AI.

We’re highlighting 22 transactions from the past week, but you can always track more investments in the RBR Transactions Database.  The regularly updated database lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type. RBR Insiders can also download the Q1 2018 Transactions Report, which gives further analysis on investments in this space. Go check it out!

Intel bets big on AI and analytics

At this week’s Intel Capital Global Summit in California, the investment division of Intel announced 12 new technology investments totaling $72 million, including several with AI components. Of particular interest to the robotics community are the following companies:

  • Reconova, a Chinese AI firm that uses facial recognition via computer vision and machine learning technologies.
  • Fictiv, a San Francisco startup that develops a virtual manufacturing system. Intel Capital led a Series B round of $15 million for Fictiv.
  • Syntiant, an AI semiconductor firm aiming to bring AI capabilities to edge devices.
  • Gamalon, which utilizes AI in its natural language offering for enterprises. Intel Capital led a $20 million Series A funding round for Gamalon.
  • Avaamo, which raised $14.2 million in Series A funding, is using deep learning technology to create conversational AI.

Intel Capital said it has invested more than $115 million so far this year. In addition, the company said it surpassed its 2015 goal of investing $125 million in startups run by women and underrepresented minorities through its Intel Capital Diversity Initiative.

Like NVIDIA, Intel seems to be recognizing the value of having AI happen on silicon — check out this story talking about the likely battle coming between Intel and NVIDIA in this space.

AI-related companies also score big funding

It wasn’t just Intel investing in AI or machine learning companies this week. In addition to Syntiant, other companies looking to put AI capabilities on chips or semiconductors for use on edge devices, which could include robots or autonomous vehicles, also received funding.

Chinese firm Unisound announced it raised $100 million in Series C funding for its AI chip system, which it will release later this month. It will includes voice recognition, language processing, and big data technologies aimed at Internet of Things devices. The funding was led by the China Electronics Health Fund, which was established by China Electronics Corporation Data, a telecommunications equipment maker.

XNOR.AI closed $12 million in Series A funding, led by Madrona Venture Group, to help “unlock the next wave of AI adoption, shifting AI from the cloud to run locally intelligent devices.” The company said its technology creates AI experiences that are 10 times faster and 200% more power efficient, using 15 times less memory than AI that runs on data centers. The company said it can run deep learning models to run on phones, devices, and other low-power microprocessors.

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Other big AI investments for the week

The largest investment in AI this week went to ThoughtSpot, which raised $145 million in an oversubscribed Series D funding round. The company develops AI-driven analytics and search technologies aimed for enterprises. It said it will use the new funding to expand in Europe and Asia and to grow its current research and development centers in Palo Alto, Seattle, Dallas, and Bangalore.

What’s interesting in the AI space is to see how many different industries that AI is now reaching. This week, for example, AI companies developing systems for the insurance industry, retailers, drug discovery, and agriculture, to name a few. See these transactions:

Drishti aims to glean data from human actions

Much of the focus around factories, manufacturing and automation tends to aim at robots and machines, but startup Drishti said “humans are still the biggest contributors to value creation in manufacturing.” The company announced this week it raised $10 million in Series A funding for its “action recognition” technology that aims to digitize human activities, creating a new dataset for manufacturers.

The company’s funding was led by Emergence Capital, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and Benhamou Global Ventures. Drishti, which is Sanskrit for the word “vision,” was spun out from SRI International, and supported by a Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Endeavor Robotics wins $10M from Marines for throwable robots

FirstLook robot Endeavor Robotics

FirstLook ‘throwable’ robot from Endeavor Robotics.

It wasn’t just AI companies getting funding this week. Endeavor Robotics, which grew out of iRobot, announced a $10 million contract from the U.S. Marine Corps for its 5-lb. FirstLook robots, which are throwable and can be dropped about 20 feet onto concrete without sustaining damage.

Endeavor said more than 1,000 FirstLook robots have been deployed worldwide to military, law enforcement and industrial customers. The robots are used to clear buildings; detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs); and explore confined spaces such as caves, tunnels, or crawl spaces. The robots include day and night cameras, as well as two-way audio.

Endeavor said the latest contract follows two other contracts with the Marines, totaling more than $24 million.

IoT-based companies get investments

Two other notable transactions from this week include a $1.2 million investment for Sensor Networks, which makes IoT-based devices for the insurance industry, and $7.6 million for Axiom Energy, which makes an industrial battery for refrigerators and other cold storage systems.

It’s not necessarily related to robotics, but these investments show the growing interest in the Industrial Internet of Things. If the giant refrigerators at the grocery store are getting connected, it’s not too long before everything else will.

RBR Transaction Headline of the Week: Miovision Gets Green Light on Funding for Smart Intersection Platform. Any technology that can improve traffic within cities, and allow emergency vehicles to get through traffic faster, gets a thumbs-up from me.

That’s it for the investments roundup this week — thanks for reading!