Artificial intelligence

Hong Kong’s SenseTime teams up with Qualcomm to extend AI into more devices

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 7:29am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 12:19pm

SenseTime Group, a high-flying start-up based in the Hong Kong Science Park, has formed a strategic collaboration with mobile chip giant Qualcomm Technologies that will expand its expertise in artificial intelligence technologies into a broad range of devices.

“Together we’ll push the envelope and extend AI to places that are currently beyond reach,” Xu Li, co-founder and chief executive of SenseTime, said in a statement on Thursday.

“Our strategic collaboration will become a turning point for the whole AI ecosystem.”

Qualcomm and SenseTime expect to drive the popularity and development of on-device AI in areas such as innovative vision and camera-based image processing.

They said the first public demonstration of their collaboration will be held in Shenzhen during the China Public Security Expo, which will run from October 29 to November 1.

The alliance with Qualcomm marks a new milestone for SenseTime, which completed in July its US$410 million Series B round of funding from a group of nearly 20 investors that vaulted the company to “unicorn” status with a valuation of around US$1.5 billion.

That transaction was the single largest financing round in AI history to date. A unicorn is a start-up that is valued at US$1 billion or more.

SenseTime has made a name for itself in so-called deep learning, a subset of machine learning technology in AI. It now has offices located in Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Tokyo and Kyoto.

Founded in 2014, SenseTime has more than 400 customers and strategic partners, according to Shang Hailong, SenseTime’s managing director based in Hong Kong.

He said those included graphics processor maker Nvidia, selfie apps maker Meitu, China Mobile, and Chinese smartphone giants Huawei Technologies, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo.

Keith Kressin, the senior vice-president for product management at Qualcomm Technologies, told The South China Morning Post on Thursday that SenseTime’s work in on-device AI with mutual customers led Qualcomm to engage in discussions with the Hong Kong start-up.

“Qualcomm has been conducting fundamental research in AI over a decade,” said Kressin. “In fact, many devices shipping today using our Snapdragon mobile platforms already utilise on-device AI.”

He said Qualcomm expected its collaboration with SenseTime “to further accelerate new and exciting capabilities of on-device AI for millions of consumers using mobile devices”.

Qualcomm is currently focused on optimising its Snapdragon mobile platform for AI in the areas of computer vision and natural language processing for smartphones, devices for the so-called internet of things and the automotive sector.

Albert Wong Hak-keung, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp, said there are other promising start-ups at the Science Park that are pursuing initiatives on various commercial applications for AI.

Worldwide corporate spending in so-called cognitive and artificial intelligence systems are forecast to reach US$46 billion by 2020, up from an estimated US$12.5 billion this year, according to technology research firm IDC.