China’s computer vision company SenseTime today announced it had raised a staggering US$600 million in Series C funding, setting a world record for an AI company and bringing its value to an estimated US$4.5 billion to make it the world’s most valued AI startup.
China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba Group led the funding, joined by Temasek Holdings and Suning Corporation. Says Alibaba Group Vice Chairman Cai Chongxin, “SenseTime‘s research capabilities in deep learning and computer vision are impressive. Alibaba looks forward to partnering with SenseTime to inspire more innovations and create value for society.”
Founded in 2014 by Dr. Xiao’ou Tang, a Professor of Information Engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), SenseTime uses deep learning in the development of computer vision to replicate tasks performed by the human visual system.
SenseTime Co-Founder and CEO Xu Li told Synced the company set up an R&D team of 200 scientists during its first two years. The investment quickly paid off, as the team came up with an advanced deep learning framework and a cutting-edge 1207-layer neural network in 2016.
SenseTime’s superior AI technologies were soon transformed into a number of marketable software solutions: SensePose to synchronize users’ movements with virtual figures in real-time videos; SenseVideo to recognize the positions and attributes of humans, vehicles and other entities from video input; and SenseFace to detect humans faces in a millisecond.
These technologies can be applied to multiple industries, including automotive, finance, mobile internet, robotics, security, and smartphones, and helped SenseTime score mega-clients such as China Mobile, China UnionPay, Huawei Technologies Co, Xiaomi, JD.com, and an important strategic partnership with chip giant NVIDIA.
In late 2016 SenseTime raised US$120 million in funding led by Beijing-based CDH Investments, Dalian Wanda Group, IDG Capital Partners and Star VC. Some six months later the company closed its Series B funding with US$410 million from CDH and Sailing Capital, which propelled it onto CB Insights’ 2017 technology unicorn list.
SenseTime has about 700 staff, with 120 researchers who hold doctoral degrees. According to a November Reuters report the company is preparing for an IPO.
Xu says the latest funding round will not only strengthen the company’s advantages, but bring more business opportunities: “The Series C financing will help SenseTime apply its core technology to more industries, expand the business landscape by cooperating with partners globally, and connect the upstream and downstream industry.”
Author: Paul Fan| Editor: Tony Peng, Michael Sarazen