China’s SenseTime expands digital frontier from facial recognition into AR and autonomous driving
SenseTime is expanding geographically and into new areas as demand for AI solutions grows
SenseTime, the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence (AI) start-up that counts Alibaba and Qualcomm among its investors, is branching out into autonomous driving and augmented reality (AR).
The expansion fits with its goal to grow into a “platform company” for AI technologies amid a national drive towards supremacy in innovation, said SenseTime co-founder Xu Bing at a conference in Hangzhou, in a transcript verified by the company.
“Our leading algorithms for facial recognition have already proven a big success,” said Xu, “and now comes [new technologies for] autonomous driving, which enable machines to recognise images both inside and outside cars, and an augmented reality engine, integrating know-how in reading facial expressions and body movement.”
While virtual reality creates an immersive, computer-generated environment that is artificial, augmented reality integrates digital information into the user’s existing environment in real time.
Known for providing AI-powered surveillance software for China’s police, SenseTime said it achieved profitability last year on the back of selling AI-powered applications for smart cities, surveillance, smartphones, internet entertainment, finance, retail and other industries. The company is also expanding geographically, announcing last week it had signed separate deals with Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel), Nanyang Technological University and the National Supercomputing Centre in Singapore to do advanced research and develop AI-based solutions in the country and other member-economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Founded at the Hong Kong Science Park in 2014, the start-up raised US$620 million in May bolstering its position as the world’s most valuable AI start-up, with a valuation of US$4.5 billion. The financing came on the heels of an earlier round in April led by Alibaba Group Holding, the parent company of the South China Morning Post.
“Our experience in China teaches us that you to move fast to achieve breakthroughs,” said Xu at the TechCrunch conference, explaining the reason behind the fundraising pace. “Our investors can bring not only money but also strategic partnership. It is the synergy we value most.”
“In China, if you want to grow into a major AI platform, technology is not enough,” he said, adding that capabilities to drive commercial adoption and raise capital from investors also matter.
The world’s most populous country is embracing facial recognition technology with gusto and integrating it into the daily lives of its people, with public security authorities using the technologies to spot suspected criminals and even jaywalkers. Other applications of the technology have been adopted by the retail, finance and transport sectors.
SenseTime is considered among the “lucky few” amid “China’s explosion in AI usage”, said Xu, adding that AI can help the country to address a range of problems and increase productivity.
“China’s innovation of business models is much faster compared with other countries,” he said, “with technology breakthrough and AI listed as a national level strategy, we can feel the release of explosive growth in market demand.”