Automating the Edge with Robotics

Apple adds Xnor.AI smarts to edge devices

Apple adds Xnor.AI smarts to edge devices

Apple has acquired Xnor.AI, a developer of software and chip technology that make the job of object recognition easier for edge devices. The deal marks the latest in a string of AI-related acquisitions by Apple, though like most of acquisitions, terms were not announced.

Xnor.AI was a startup spun out of the Paul Allen Institute for AI (AI2) in 2017 and had raised $14.6m from Madrona Venture Group. The company has 30 employees listed on LinkedIn, but reports suggest there were upward of 70 employees working on products.

Xnor has developed software and chip designs that enable devices to run algorithms used for image recognition, among other possibilities. One of the big advances claimed was a method of converting computationally intensive AI models into approximately equivalent binary operations. (TechCrunch has a good explanation of the technology here).

Processors are inherently good at running binary operations quickly, and Xnor’s software enabled image recognition models to run on low power devices. In 2019, the company claimed a breakthrough in enabling AI algorithms to run on small solar-powered chips.

The technology is important because running AI on the device means there’s no need to send large amounts of data to brawnier servers at the access edge or core cloud. Applications such as image recognition can take place without latency penalties while also saving on energy consumption needed for data transmission and processing by less efficient CPU and GPU-powered servers.

While the implications for industrial applications are significant (the company talked about placing solar-powered cameras on traffic lights throughout a city or grocery stores, for example), Apple’s interest likely focuses on consumer electronics in the home (smart assistant-powered speakers and other home control devices) as well as the company’s already powerful smartphones. In terms of Apple products, being able to run more AI models on the device helps reduce the privacy concerns associated with moving data over the internet and storing consumers private information in a central location.

Deal comes among AI venture gold rush

Finding talent to develop AI-related technology is getting very difficult, and prices are getting baked into higher prices for investors and acquirers. AI startups raised almost $18.5bn in 2019, according to a report by VentureBeat, citing figures from the Q4 2019 PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

Apple Intelligence: AI deals

the race for ai
(Source: CBInsights, September 2019)

Apple has been very active on the AI front, having acquired 20 AI companies over the last decade, according to CBInsights. Among the more recent deals: in 2019 Apple acquired Silk Labs, a machine learning company that provides an on-device AI platform enabling real-time visual and audio recognition.

Considering investment and acquisition data already available, the Xnor.AI exit suggests that AI on edge devices will be a hot sector for investment and M&A activity in 2020.

Article Topics

 |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Featured Edge Computing Company

Edge Ecosystem Videos

Automating the Edge


Deploying AI Models at the Edge


Latest News