July 28, 2016      

China’s drive for AI

It’s being called the great Chinese investment wave. According to the Rhodium Group, the wave is $15 billion more in the US this year (2016) than it was in 2015. Hence, the appellation-great wave.

Globally, Jeffries reports that Chinese the great wave is YTD2016 $155 billion.

This year, the great wave is keying on US technology; and a splash of it rolled into Boston and right on up to the front door of Neurala, a maker of artificial intelligence software.

The Neurala visit wasn’t an acquisition move yet, but the way things are going, anything can happen. For now it’s a $1.2 million investment led by Haiyin Capital, a China-based firm and new backer of the company, and return investor Tim Draper and his Draper Associates.

Neurela is Haiyin’s fourth high-tech investment since 2015. Previously, the investments went to Soft Robotics, XCOR, and 1366 Technologies, which are robot end effector, reusable rocket tech, and silicon wafer tech, respectively.

Dubbed a “brain for bots”, Neurala’s newest AI offering allows for navigating objects, identifying and classifying them, plus tracking and avoiding them.

“It’s a huge opportunity with low-cost devices to add intelligence to toys,” said Massimiliano Versace, Neurala’s CEO.

Max Versace, Neurala CEO

In addition to the toy industry, the artificial intelligence software adapts to other consumer products like drones or even self-driving cars.

For an example of how Neurala’s AI integrates with navigation, consider,Teal, a drone developed by George Matus.

Teal, can make decisions in the air. That’s thanks to brain-inspired software from Neurala. Layers of artificial neural networks handle different tasks, such as interpreting what the dron’s camera sees or choosing where the drone will go next.

“The Teal drone is the first drone with a processor powerful enough for us to run our machine learning software right on the drone itself, so it can make immediate decisions,” says Matus. “It’s the first stage of autonomous flight.”

With a Chinese investor aboard, Versace feels certain that Neurala’s AI software is in line for major opportunities in the Asian market.

Haiyin Capital partner Xin Ma seconded Neurala’s Asian potential: “Neurala’s deep learning, AI technology will be uniquely important to the global markets for companies that want to make their products more autonomous, engaging and useful. We see a tremendous opportunity for them as a global player.”

Neurala’s AI fits well into China’s overall plan formulated jointly by the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Cyberspace Administration of China, “to expand its artificial intelligence products market to over $15 billion by speeding up the manufacturing of products like robots, home appliances and mobile phones as part of efforts to develop new technologies to reorient its sluggish economy” by 2018.

Although Neurala is a small investment for Haiyin, its tech could well turn out to be critically important to China’s AI strategy.