Artificial intelligence

Intel leads US$100m funding round for Chinese AI start-up Horizon Robotics

Horizon founder Yu Kai, a former leading AI scientist at Baidu, says the company’s goal is to become “the Intel of the AI age”

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 3:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 6:12pm

Horizon Robotics, the Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) start-up, expects to close a US$100 million funding round led by Intel Capital – the global chip giant’s venture capital arm – by the end of this year.

Other investors in the round including China-based Harvest Investments and Morningside Venture Capital.

Intel said the funding in Horizon was part of a series of investments worth more than US$60 million it has made recently in 15 global tech start-ups, focused on data.

Beijing-based Horizon said in a live webcast in San Francisco run by Intel the funds will be used to speed up its research and development of AI technology, and its related products.

Horizon was founded in 2015 by Yu Kai, a former head of Baidu’s Institute of Deep Learning, and builds chips to power artificial intelligence in self-driving vehicles and smart cameras.

Yu was previously quoted as saying by various media sources that the company’s goal is to become “the Intel of the AI age”, just as Intel was one of the icons of the PC era.

The world’s more than 1,000 categories of AI-driven devices, such as autonomous vehicles and smart cameras, will be equipped with “brains” in the future, Horizon said, adding these will be embedded in physical devices to become intelligent entities that have the ability for perceive, understand and decision-make for safety, convenience and fun.

Intel Capital said it plans to invest in more Chinese technology firms.

“China has been and will continue being an important market for Intel Capital,” the company said.

“We are very much focusing on looking for and investing in technologies that help China build and develop its data economy, including cloud, big data, data analytics, AI, autonomous driving and so on.”

Intel Capital officials also said during the webcast it has made new investments recently in 15 global tech firms, pushing its total commitment to more than US$566 million this year.

Ten of those 15 are in the US – eight in California, with one each in New York and Portland, Oregon. The others include two Tel Aviv-based start-ups, and one Canadian one Japanese.

“The world is undergoing a data explosion,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel’s senior vice-president and president of Intel Capital.

He expects every autonomous vehicle on the road to be creating 4 terabytes of data per day by 2020, adding that a million self-driving cars will be able to create the same amount of data every day, as three billion people.

As its parent transitions into a “data company”, he said Intel Capital will continue to invest in various tech start-ups that can help expand the data ecosystem and “pathfind” important new technologies.

As an aside, he added, too, that currently more than 10 per cent of Intel Capital’s portfolio companies are led by women or “under-represented minorities”, a term that usually refers to African Americans, American Indians, or Latinos.