Apple Acquires AI-On-The-Edge Startup Xnor.ai For Around $200M

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On Wednesday, Apple’s acquisition of Seattle-based edge computing company Xnor.ai hit the wires.

According to GeekWire, a Seattle-based technology publication, the deal was in the $200 million range, but precise figures were not reported.

Apple, for its part, didn’t have much to say on the matter. The company delivered its standard response when asked about the deal by GeekWire: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

What is Xnor.ai and what does it do? According to the company’s Crunchbase profile, its technology “runs deep learning models efficiently ​on edge devices such as phones, IoT devices, cameras, drones, and embedded CPUs.”

An archived snapshot of the company’s website from May 2019 explains the basics of its technology. “Traditional deep learning models for convolutional network uses 32-bit precision floating point operations processed on GPUs, which are generally cost prohibitive for everyday products. Xnor reduces the precision down to a single bit and processes it using binary operations like XNOR and pop-count, which are standard instructions on low cost CPU platforms.”

The company’s website also stated that “[m]odels already developed include detection, recognition, tracking, segmentation, face recognition, scene classification, pose estimation, image enhancement, emotional recognition, and voice command.”

Researchers at Xnor.ai developed an object detection model they called You Only Look Once (aka YOLO), which the company licensed to enterprise customers including internet-connected home security camera company Wyse.

9to5Mac reports that Wyse told its customers that its Person Detection feature will be temporarily unavailable “due to the unexpected termination of our agreement with our AI provider.” Wyse plans to build out this feature in-house. It’s unclear how many other customers may be affected by the acquisition.

Xnor’s is not the first acquisition Apple has made in the machine learning sector. In August 2016, Apple acquired Turi, which was also based in Seattle, reportedly for around $200 million as well.

Xnor was founded in late 2016 by Ali Farhadi and Mohammad Rastegari as a spinout from the Allen Institute For Artificial Intelligence (AI2), which was founded and backed by late Microsoft executive Paul Allen. AI2’s first successful spinout was Kitt.ai, a natural language processing workflow technology company which sold to Baidu in 2017 for an undisclosed amount.

Xnor raised $14.6 million in prior venture backing, according to Crunchbase data. Its last round, a $12 million Series A deal led by Madrona Venture Group, was announced in May 2018.

This is Apple’s first disclosed acquisition of 2020.

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