- Sources say $US600 million round values SenseTime at $US4.5 billion.
- Specialises in surveillance and image recognition.
- Founded in 2014; profitable in 2017.
Chinese facial recognition technology developer SenseTime Group Ltd may be worth as much as $US4.5 billion.
SenseTime says investors including Chinese e-commerce company Suning.Com and Singapore state fund Temasek Holdings helped close its series-C fundraising round.
But the biggest pile-in came from Alibaba, which topped the round up to $US600 million. The company would not disclose its total valuation, but “two people with knowledge of the matter” told Reuters it brought SenseTime’s value up to around $US4.5 billion.
The company has claimed it “set a world record” for the amount raised in a single funding round by an AI firm.
A series-B push led by China’s CDH Investments and state-backed fund Sailing Capital in July valued the startup at over $1.5 billion.
At $US4.5 billion, it would be the most valuable AI startup in the world, at a time when China’s government is making noises about becoming an “international leader” in AI by 2025.
In November, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said there was every reason to believe it could.
“Trust me, these Chinese people are good,” Schmidt said.
Russian president Vladimir Putin believes the country that leads in AI in the future could dominate the world.
SenseTime makes AI-powered surveillance software. Specifically, image analysis used by China’s police force. As long as two years ago, it had technology that could identify cars and faces from as far as 100 metres away:
And match them to a national database:
Remarkably, it became profitable in 2017, almost unheard of in startup world, having been founded just three years earlier by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
SenseTime is also developing autonomous driving technology.
But according to Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsia, it is “especially impressed by their R&D capabilities in deep learning and visual computing”.
“Our business at Alibaba is already seeing tangible benefits from our investments in AI and we are committed to further investment.”