Apple Boosts AI Capabilities With Xnor.ai Buy

The acquired company is a Seattle-based startup that specializes in low-power, edge-based artificial intelligence tools.

CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple has acquired Seattle-based artificial intelligence (AI) software start-up Xnor.ai for approximately $200 million.

The acquisition, which was first reported by geekwire.com, would give Apple access to low-power AI tools for image recognition in cameras. Xnor.ai’s software allows companies run deep learning algorithms locally on devices that include smartphones and wearables rather than requiring these computations to be done at remote data centers.

In recent years, Apple has pushed to run this type of software on its devices to keep user information more private and speed up processing.

Xnor.ai has 54 employees, according to LinkedIn. Investors include Madrona Venture Group. The company spun out of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research lab established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Xnor.ai ranked No. 44 on the most recent Forbes list of America’s most promising AI companies. The startup achieved several notable advances in 2019, including the development of a standalone AI chip capable of running for years on solar power or a coin-sized battery and the debut of an AI-enabled device that can autonomously monitor grocery shelves, GeekWire reports.

Some notable AI purchases from Apple over the years include Novauris Technologies (developer of Siri), the music recognition app Shazam, self-driving tech company Drive.ai, and Spectral Edge — a startup that helps improve image quality on smartphones.

AI-related acquisitions have spiked in recent years as the technology proliferates in a wide range of software sectors. Investors put a record $9.3 billion into U.S. AI startups in 2018, nearly doubling the previous year’s total, according to cbinsights.com.

The AI sector is the second-highest emerging area based on deal activity, behind only fintech, according to a Q4 2019 report from PwC.

Axios reported last year that AI acquisitions reflect a need for big tech companies to secure scarce AI expertise. Apple in particular has been hungry for AI startups, leading all tech companies for related acquisitions in 2019, according to CBInsights.

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